انگلیسی: آموزش، زبانشناسی، ترجمه، ادبیات
برای زبان آموزان و دانشجویان رشته های دبیری، زبان شناسی، مترجمی و ادبیات انگلیسی؛ و ادبیات فارسی 
قالب وبلاگ

Chapter 10

 

 

Strong kept his word about amusing the two girls. They were not allowed the time to make themselves unhappy, restless or discontented. This Sunday afternoon he set out with a pair of the fastest horses to be got in the neighborhood, and if these did not go several times over the cliff, it was, as Strong had said, rather their own good sense than their driver's which held them back. Catherine, who sat by Strong's side, made the matter worse by taking the reins, and a more reckless little Amazon never defied men. Even Strong himself at one moment, when wreck seemed certain, asked her to kindly see to the publication of a posthumous memoir, and Esther declared that although she did not fear death, she disliked Catherine's way of killing her. Catherine paid no attention to such ribaldry, and drove on like Phaeton. Wharton was carried away by the girl's dash and coolness. He wanted to paint her as the charioteer of the cataract. They drove by the whirlpool, and so far and fast that, when Esther found herself that night tossing and feverish in her bed, she could only dream that she was still skurrying over a snow-bound country, aching with jolts and jerks, but unable ever to stop. The next day she was glad to stay quietly in the house and amuse herself with sketching, while the rest of the party crossed the river to get Mr. Murray's sleeping-berth by the night train to New York, and to waste their time and money on the small attractions of the village. Mr. Murray was forced to return to his office. Wharton, who had no right to be here at all, for a score of pressing engagements were calling for instant attention in New York, telegraphed simply that his work would detain him several days longer at Niagara, and he even talked of returning with the others by way of Quebec.

While the rest of the party were attending to their own affairs at the railway station and the telegraph office, Wharton and Catherine strolled down to the little park over the American Fall and looked at the scene from there. Catherine in her furs was prettier than ever; her fresh color was brightened by the red handkerchief she had tied round her neck, and her eyes were more mutinous than usual. As she leaned over the parapet, and looked into the bubbling torrent which leaped into space at her feet, Wharton would have liked to carry her off like the torrent and give her no chance to resist. Yet, reckless as he was, he had still common sense enough to understand that, until he was fairly rid of one wife, he could not expect another to throw herself into his arms, and he awkwardly flitted about her, like a moth about a lantern, unable even to singe his wings in the flame.

"Then it is decided?" he asked. "You are really going abroad?"

"I am really going to take Esther to Europe for at least two years. We want excitement. America is too tame."

"May I come over and see you there?"

"No followers are to be allowed. I have forbidden Esther to think of them. She must devote all her time to art, or I shall be severe with her."

"But I suppose you don't mean to devote all your own time to art."

"I must take care of her," replied Catherine. "Then I have got to write some more sonnets. My hand is getting out in sonnets."

"Paris will spoil you; I shall wish you had never left your prairie," said Wharton sadly.

"It is you that have spoiled me," replied she. "You have made me self-conscious, and I am going abroad to escape your influence."

"Do me a favor when you are there; go to Avignon and Vaucluse; when you come to Petrarch's house, think of me, for there I passed the most hopeless hours of my life."

"No, I will not go there to be sad. Sadness is made only for poetry or painting. It is your affair, not mine. I mean to be gay."

"Try, then!" said Wharton. "See for yourself how far gayety will carry you. My turn will come! We all have to go over that cataract, and you will have to go over with the rest of us."

Catherine peered down into the spray and foam beneath as though she were watching herself fall, and then replied: "I shall stay in the shallowest puddle I can find."

"You will one day learn to give up your own life and follow an ideal," said Wharton.

Catherine laughed at his solemn speech with a boldness that irritated him. "Men are always making themselves into ideals and expecting women to follow them," said she. "You are all selfish. Tell me now honestly, would you not sell yourself and me and all New York, like Faust in the opera, if you could paint one picture like Titian?"

Wharton answered sulkily: "I would like to do it on Faust's conditions."

"I knew it," cried she exultingly.

"If ever the devil, or any one else," continued Wharton, "can get me to say to the passing moment, 'stay, thou art so fair,' he can have me for nothing. By that time I shall be worth nothing."

"Your temper will be much sweeter," interjected Catherine.

"Faust made a bargain that any man would be glad to make," growled Wharton. "It was not till he had no soul worth taking that the devil had a chance to win."

Catherine turned on him suddenly with her eyes full of humor: "Then that is the bargain you offer us women. You want us to take you on condition that we amuse you, and then you tell us that if we do amuse you, it will be because you are no longer worth taking. Thank you! I can amuse myself better. When we come home from Europe, I am going to buy a cattle ranche in Colorado and run it myself. You and Mr. Strong and Mr. Hazard shall come out there and see it. You will want me to take you on wages as cowboys. I mean to have ten thousand head, and when you see them you will say that they are better worth painting than all the saints and naiads round the Mediterranean."

Wharton looked earnestly at her for a moment before replying, and she met his eyes with a laugh that left him helpless. Unless taken seriously, he was beneath the level of average men. At last he closed the talk with a desperate confession of failure.

"If you will not go to Vaucluse, Miss Brooke, go at least to the British Museum in London, and when you are there, take a long look at what are called the Elgin marbles. There you will see Greek warriors killing each other with a smile on their faces. You remind me of them. You are like Achilles who answers his Trojan friend's prayer for life by saying: 'Die, friend; you are no better than others I have killed.' I mean to get Miss Dudley to give me her portrait of you, and I shall paint in, over your head: [Greek: PHILOS THANE KAI SY]; and hang it up in my studio to look at, when I am in danger of feeling happy."

With this they rambled back again towards their friends and ended for the time their struggle for mastery. The morning was soon over; all returned to their hotel, and luncheon followed; a silent meal at which no one seemed bright except Strong, who felt that the burden was beginning to be a heavy one. Had it not been for Strong, not one of the party would have moved out of the house again that day, but the Professor privately ordered a sleigh to the door at three o'clock, and packed his uncle and aunt into it together with Catherine and Wharton. Catherine's love of driving lent her energy, and Mrs. Murray, sadly enough, consented to let her take the reins. As they drove away, Strong stood on the porch and watched them till they had disappeared down the road. The afternoon was cloudy and gray, with flakes of snow dropping occasionally through a despondent air. After the sleigh had gone, Strong still gazed down the road, as though he expected to see something, but the road was bare.

He had stayed at home under the pretense of writing letters, and now returned to the sitting-room, where Esther was sketching from the window a view of the cataract. She went quietly on with her work, while he sat down to write as well as his conscience would allow him; for now that he saw how much good Esther's escape had done her, how quiet she had become again, and how her look of trouble had vanished, leaving only a tender little air of gravity, as she worked in the silence of her memories; and when he thought how violently this serenity was likely to be disturbed, his conscience smote him, he bitterly regretted his interference, and roundly denounced himself for a fool.

"Does Mr. Wharton really care for Catherine?" asked Esther, as she went on with her sketch.

"I guess he thinks he does," answered Strong. "He looks at her as though he would eat her."

"What a pity!"

"He is tough! Don't waste sympathy on him! If she took him, he would make her a slave within a week. As it is, his passion will go into his painting."

"She is a practical young savage," said Esther. "I thought at one time she was dazzled by him, but the moment she saw how unfit she was for such a man, she gave it up without a pang."

"I don't see her unfitness," replied Strong. "She has plenty of beauty, more common sense than he, and some money which would help him amazingly except that he would soon spend it. I should say it was he who wanted fitness, but you can't harness a mustang with a unicorn."

"He wants me to study in Paris," said Esther; "but I mean to go to Rome and Venice. I am afraid to tell him."

"When do you expect to be there?"

"Some time in May, if we can get any one to take us."

"Perhaps I will look you up in the summer. If I do not go to Oregon, I may run over to Germany."

"We shall be terribly homesick," replied Esther.

Silence now followed till Strong finished his letters and looked again at his watch. It was four o'clock. "If he is coming," thought Strong, "it is time he were here; but I would draw him a check for his church if he would stay away." The jingling of sleigh-bells made itself heard on the road below as though to rebuke him, and presently a cry of fright from Esther at the window told that she knew what was before her.

"What shall I do?" she cried breathlessly. "Here he is! I can't see him! I can't go through that scene again. George! won't you stop him?"

"What under the sun are you afraid of?" said Strong. "He'll not shoot you! If you don't mean to marry him, tell him so, and this time make it clear. Let there be no mistake about it! But don't send him away if you mean to make yourself unhappy afterwards."

"Of course I am going to be unhappy afterwards," groaned Esther. "What do you know about it, George? Do you think I feel about him as you would about a lump of coal? I was just beginning to be quiet and peaceful, and now it must all start up again. Go away! Leave us alone! But not long! If he is not gone within an hour, come back!"

The next instant the door opened and Hazard was shown into the room. His manner at this awkward moment was quiet and self-possessed, as though he had made it the business of his life to chase flying maidens. Having taken his own time, he was not to be thrown off his balance by any ordinary chance. He nodded familiarly to Strong, who left the room as he entered, and walking straight to Esther, held out his hand with a look of entreaty harder for her to resist than any form of reproach.

"I told you that I should follow," he said.

She drew back, raising her hand to check him, and putting on what she intended for a forbidding expression.

"It is my own fault. I should have spoken more plainly," she replied.

Instead of taking up the challenge, Hazard turned to the table where her unfinished drawing lay.

"What a good sketch!" he said, bending over it. "But you have not yet caught the real fall. I never saw an artist that had."

Esther's defense was disconcerted by this attack. Hazard was bent on getting back to his old familiar ground, and she let him take it. Her last hope was that he might be willing to take it, and be made content with it. If she could but persuade him to forget what had passed, and return to the footing of friendship which ought never to have been left! This was what she was made for! Her courage rose as she thought that perhaps this was possible, and as he sat down before the drawing and discussed it, she fancied that her object was already gained, and that this young greyhound at her elbow could be held in a leash and made to obey a sign.

In a few minutes he had taken again his old friendly place, and if she did not treat him with all the old familiarity, he still gained ground enough to warrant him in believing more firmly than ever that she could not resist his influence so long as he was at her side. They ran on together in talk about the drawing, until he felt that he might risk another approach, and his way of doing it was almost too easy and dexterous.

"What you want to get into your picture," he was saying; "is the air, which the fall has, of being something final. You can't go beyond Niagara. The universe seems made for it. Whenever I come here, I find myself repeating our sonnet: 'Siccome eterna vita e veder dio;' for the sight of it suggests eternity and infinite power." Then suddenly putting down the drawing, and looking up to her face, as she stood by his side, he said: "Do you know, I feel now for the first time the beauty of the next two verses:


    'So, lady, sight of you, in my despair,
    Brings paradise to this brief life and frail.'"


"Hush!" said Esther, raising her hand again; "we are friends now and nothing more."

"Mere friends, are we?" quoted Hazard, with a courageous smile. "No!" he went on quickly. "I love you. I cannot help loving you. There is no friendship about it."

"If you tell me so, I must run away again. I shall leave the room. Remember! I am terribly serious now."

"If you tell me, honestly and seriously, that you love me no longer and want me to go away, I will leave the room myself," answered Hazard.

"I won't say that unless you force me to it, but I expect you from this time to help me in carrying out what you know is my duty."

"I will promise, on condition that you prove to me first what your duty is."

To come back again to their starting point was not encouraging, and they felt it, but this time Esther was determined to be obeyed even if it cost her a lover as well as a husband. She did not flinch.

"What more proof do you need? I am not fit to be a clergyman's wife. I should be a scandal in the church, and you would have to choose between it and me."

"I know you better," said Hazard calmly. "You will find all your fears vanish if you once boldly face them."

"I have tried," said Esther. "I tried desperately and failed utterly."

"Try once more! Do not turn from all that has been the hope and comfort of men, until you have fairly learned what it is!"

"Is it not enough to know myself?" asked Esther. "Some people are made with faith. I am made without it."

Hazard broke in here in a warmer tone: "I know you better than you know yourself! Do you think that I, whose business it is to witness every day of my life the power of my faith, am going to hesitate before a trifle like your common, daily, matter-of-course fears and doubts, such as have risen and been laid in every mind that was worth being called one, ever since minds existed?"

"Have they always been laid?" asked Esther gravely.

"Always!" answered Hazard firmly; "provided the doubter wanted to lay them. It is a simple matter of will!"

"Would you have gone into the ministry if you had been tormented by them as I am?" she asked.

"I am not afraid to lay bare my conscience to you," he replied becoming cool again, and willing perhaps to stretch his own points of conscience in the effort to control hers. "I suppose the clergyman hardly exists who has not been tormented by doubts. As for myself, if I could have removed my doubts by so simple a step as that of becoming an atheist, I should have done it, no matter what scandal or punishment had followed. I studied the subject thoroughly, and found that for one doubt removed, another was raised, only to reach at last a result more inconceivable than that reached by the church, and infinitely more hopeless besides. What do you gain by getting rid of one incomprehensible only to put a greater one in its place, and throw away your only hope besides? The atheists offer no sort of bargain for one's soul. Their scheme is all loss and no gain. At last both they and I come back to a confession of ignorance; the only difference between us is that my ignorance is joined with a faith and hope."

Esther was staggered by this view of the subject, and had to fall back on her common-places: "But you make me say every Sunday that I believe in things I don't believe at all."

"But I suppose you believe at last in something, do you not?" asked Hazard. "Somewhere there must be common ground for us to stand on; and our church makes very large--I think too large, allowances for difference. For my own part, I accept tradition outright, because I think it wiser to receive a mystery than to weaken faith; but no one exacts such strictness from you. There are scores of clergymen to-day in our pulpits who are in my eyes little better than open skeptics, yet I am not allowed to refuse communion with them. Why should you refuse it with me? You must at last trust in some mysterious and humanly incomprehensible form of words. Even Strong has to do this. Why may you not take mine?"

"I hardly know what to trust in," said Esther sadly.

"Then trust in me."

"I wish I could, but--"

"But what? Tell me frankly where your want of confidence lies."

"I want to tell you, but I'm afraid. This is what has stood between us from the first. If I told you what was on my lips, you would think it an insult. Don't drive me into offending you! If you knew how much I want to keep your friendship, you would not force me to say such things."

"I will not be offended," answered Hazard gayly. "I can stand almost any thing except being told that you no longer love me."

It wrung Esther's heart to throw away a love so pure and devoted. She felt ashamed of her fears and of herself. As he spoke, her ears seemed to hear a running echo: "Mistress, know yourself! Down on your knees, and thank heaven fasting for a good man's love!" She sat some moments silent while he gazed into her face, and her eyes wandered out to the gloomy and cloud-covered cataract. She felt herself being swept over it. Whichever way she moved, she had to look down into an abyss, and leap.

"Spare me!" she said at last. "Why should you drive and force me to take this leap? Are all men so tyrannical with women? You do not quarrel with a man because he cannot give you his whole life."

"I own it!" said Hazard warmly. "I am tyrannical! I want your whole life, and even more. I will be put off with nothing else. Don't you see that I can't retreat? Put yourself in my place! Think how you would act if you loved me as I love you!"

"Ah, be generous!" begged Esther. "It is not my fault if you and your profession are one; and of all things on earth, to be half-married must be the worst torture."

"You are perfectly right," he replied. "My profession and I are one, and this makes my case harder, for I have to fight two battles, one of love, and one of duty. Think for a moment what a struggle it is! I love you passionately. I would like to say to you: 'Take me on your own terms! I will give you my life, as I will take yours.' But how can I? You are trembling on the verge of what I think destruction. If I saw you tossing on the rapids yonder, at the edge of the fall, I could not be more eager to save you. Yet think what self-control I have had to exercise, for though I have felt myself, for weeks, fighting a battle of life and death for a soul much dearer to me than my own, I have gone forward as though I felt no alarm. I have never even spoken to you on the subject. I stood by, believing so entirely in you that I dared let your own nature redeem itself. But now you throw out a challenge, and I have no choice but to meet it. I have got to fight for myself and my profession and you, at the same time."

At last, then, the battle was fairly joined, and desperately as both the lovers had struggled against it, they looked their destiny in the face. With all Esther's love and sympathy for Hazard, and with all the subtle power which his presence had on her will, his last speech was unlucky. Here was what she had feared! She seemed to feel now, what she had only vaguely suspected before, the restraint which would be put upon her the moment she should submit to his will. He had as good as avowed that nothing but the fear of losing her had kept him silent. She fancied that the thunders of the church were already rolling over her head, and that her mind was already slowly shutting itself up under the checks of its new surroundings. Hazard's speech, too, was unlucky in another way. If he had tried not to shock her by taking charge of her soul before she asked for his interference, she had herself made a superhuman effort not to shock him, and never once had she let drop a word that could offend his prejudices. Since the truth must now come out, she was the less anxious to spare his pride because he claimed credit for respecting hers.

"Must you know why I have broken down and run away?" she said at last. "Well! I will tell you. It was because, after a violent struggle with myself, I found I could not enter a church without a feeling of--of hostility. I can only be friendly by staying away from it. I felt as though it were part of a different world. You will be angry with me for saying it, but I never saw you conduct a service without feeling as though you were a priest in a Pagan temple, centuries apart from me. At any moment I half expected to see you bring out a goat or a ram and sacrifice it on the high altar. How could I, with such ideas, join you at communion?"

No wonder that Esther should have hesitated! Her little speech was not meant in ridicule of Hazard, but it stung him to the quick. He started up and walked across the room to the window, where he stood a moment trying to recover his composure.

"What you call Pagan is to me proof of an eternal truth handed down by tradition and divine revelation," he said at length. "But the mere ceremonies need not stand in your way. Surely you can disregard them and feel the truths behind."

"Oh, yes!" answered Esther, plunging still deeper into the morass. "The ceremonies are picturesque and I could get used to them, but the doctrines are more Pagan than the ceremonies. Now I have hurt your feelings enough, and will say no more. What I have said proves that I am not fit to be your wife. Let me go in peace!"

Again Hazard thought a moment with a grave face. Then he said: "Every church is open to the same kind of attack you make on ours. Do you mean to separate yourself from all communion?"

"If you will create a new one that shall be really spiritual, and not cry: 'flesh--flesh--flesh,' at every corner, I will gladly join it, and give my whole life to you and it."

Hazard shook his head: "I can suggest nothing more spiritual than what came from the spirit itself, and has from all time satisfied the purest and most spiritual souls."

"If I could make myself contented with what satisfied them, I would do it for your sake," answered Esther. "It must be that we are in a new world now, for I can see nothing spiritual about the church. It is all personal and selfish. What difference does it make to me whether I worship one person, or three persons, or three hundred, or three thousand. I can't understand how you worship any person at all."

Hazard literally groaned, and his involuntary expression so irritated Esther that she ran on still more recklessly.

"Do you really believe in the resurrection of the body?" she asked.

"Of course I do!" replied Hazard stiffly.

"To me it seems a shocking idea. I despise and loathe myself, and yet you thrust self at me from every corner of the church as though I loved and admired it. All religion does nothing but pursue me with self even into the next world."

Esther had become very animated in the course of her remarks, and not the less so because she saw Hazard frown and make gestures of impatience as she passed from one sacrilege to another. At last he turned at bay, and broke out:

"Do you think all this is new to me? I know by heart all these criticisms of the church. I have heard them in one form and another ever since I was a boy at school. They are all equally poor and ignorant. They touch no vital point, for they are made by men, like your cousin George Strong, from whom I suppose you got them, who know nothing of the church or its doctrines or its history. I'll not argue over them. Let them go for whatever you may think they are worth. I will only put to you one question and no more. If you answer it against me, I will go away, and never annoy you again. You say the idea of the resurrection is shocking to you. Can you, without feeling still more shocked, think of a future existence where you will not meet once more father or mother, husband or children? surely the natural instincts of your sex must save you from such a creed!"

"Ah!" cried Esther, almost fiercely, and blushing crimson, as though Hazard this time had pierced the last restraint on her self-control: "Why must the church always appeal to my weakness and never to my strength! I ask for spiritual life and you send me back to my flesh and blood as though I were a tigress you were sending back to her cubs. What is the use of appealing to my sex? the atheists at least show me respect enough not to do that!"

At this moment the door opened and Strong entered. It was high time. The scene threatened to become almost violent. As Strong came in, Esther was standing by the fire-place, all her restless features flashing with the excitement of her last speech. Hazard, with his back to the window, was looking at her across the room, his face dark with displeasure. As Strong stepped between them, a momentary silence followed, when not a sound was heard except the low thunder of the falling waters. One would have said that storm was in the air. Suddenly Hazard turned on the unlucky professor and hurled at him the lightning.

"You are the cause of all this! what is your motive?"

Strong looked at him with surprise, but understood in a moment what had happened. Seeing himself destined in any case to be the victim of the coming wrath, he quietly made up his mind to bear the lot of all mediators and inter-meddlers.

"I am afraid you are half right," he answered. "My stupidity may have made matters a little worse."

"What was your motive?" repeated Hazard sternly.

"My motive was to fight your battle for you," replied Strong unruffled; "and I did it clumsily, that's all! I might have known it beforehand."

"Have you been trying to supplant me in order to get yourself in my place?" demanded Hazard, still in the tone of a master.

"No!" replied Strong, half inclined to laugh.

"You will never find happiness there!" continued Hazard, turning to Esther, and pointing with a sweep of his hand to Strong.

"Esther agrees with you on that point," said Strong, beginning to think it time that this scene should end. "I don't mind telling you, too, that since I have seen her stand out against your persecution, I would give any chance I have of salvation if she would marry me; but you needn't be alarmed about it,--she won't!"

"She will!" broke in Hazard abruptly. "You have betrayed me, and your conduct is all of a piece with your theories." Then turning to Esther, who still stood motionless and silent before the fire, he went on: "I am beaten. You have driven me away, and I will never trouble you again, till, in your days of suffering and anguish you send to me for hope and consolation. Till then--God bless you!"

The silence was awful when his retreating footsteps could no longer be heard. It was peace, but the peace of despair. As the sound of the jangling sleigh-bells slowly receded from the door, and Esther realized that the romance of her life was ended, she clasped her hands together in a struggle to control her tears. Strong walked once or twice up and down the room, buried in thought, then suddenly stopping before her, he said in his straight-forward, practical way:

"Esther, I meant it! you have fought your battle like a heroine. If you will marry me, I will admire and love you more than ever a woman was loved since the world began."

Esther looked at him with an expression that would have been a smile if it had not been infinitely dreary and absent; then she said, simply and finally:

"But George, I don't love you, I love him."


THE END.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 18:34 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 9

 

 

At her usual hour for taking Esther to drive, Mrs. Murray appeared at the house, where she found Catherine looking as little pleased as though she were ordered to return to her native prairie.

"We have sent him off," said she, "and we are clean broke up."

The tears were in her eyes as she thus announced the tragedy which had been acted only an hour or two before, but her coolness more than ever won Mrs. Murray's heart.

"Tell me all that has happened," said she.

"I've told you all I know," replied Catherine. "They had it out here for an hour or more, and then Esther ran up to her room. I've been to the door half a dozen times, and could hear her crying and moaning inside."

Mrs. Murray sat down with a rueful face and a weary sigh, but there was no sign of hesitation or doubt in her manner. The time had come for her to take command, and she did it without fretfulness or unnecessary words.

"You are the only person I know with a head," said she to Catherine. "You have some common sense and can help me. I want to take Esther out of this place within six hours. Can you manage to get every thing ready?"

"I will run it all if you will take care of Esther," replied Catherine. "I'm not old enough to boss her."

"All you will have to do is to see that your trunks are packed for a week's absence and you are both ready to start by eight o'clock," answered Mrs. Murray. "Do you attend to that and I will look out for the rest. Now wait here a few minutes while I go up and see Esther!"

Catherine wished nothing better than to start any where at the shortest notice. She was tired of the long strain on her sympathies and feelings, and was glad to be made useful in a way that pleased her practical mind. Mrs. Murray went up to Esther's room. All was quiet inside. The storm had spent itself. Knowing that her aunt would come, Esther had made the effort to be herself again, and when Mrs. Murray knocked at the door, the voice that told her to come in was firm and sweet as ever. Esther was getting ready for her drive, and though her eyes, in spite of bathing, were red and swollen, they had no longer the anxious and troubled look of a hunted creature which had so much alarmed Mrs. Murray for the last few days. Her expression was more composed than it had been for weeks. Her love had already become a sorrow rather than a passion, and she would not, for a world of lovers, have gone back to the distress of yesterday.

Mrs. Murray took in the whole situation at a glance and breathed a breath of relief. At length the crisis was past and she had only to save the girl from brooding over her pain. Without waiting for an explanation, she plunged into the torrent of Esther's woes.

"Mr. Murray and I are going to Niagara by the night train. I want you and Catherine to go with us."

"You are an angel!" answered Esther. "Did Catherine tell you how I wanted to run away! You knew it would be so? I will go any where; the further the better; but how can I drag you and poor Uncle John away from town at this season? Can't I go off alone with Catherine?"

"Nonsense!" said her aunt briefly. "I shall be glad to get away from New York. I am tired of it. Get your trunks packed! Put in your sketching materials, and we will pick you up at eight o'clock. George shall come on to-morrow and pass Sunday with us."

Esther thanked her aunt with effusion. "I am going to show you how well I can behave. Uncle John shall not know that any thing is the matter with me unless you tell him. I won't be contemptible, even if I have got red eyes."

Not five minutes were needed to decide on the new departure. Esther and Catherine found relief and amusement in the bustle of preparation. If Esther was still a little feverish and excited, she was able to throw it off in work. She was no longer an object of pity; it was her uncle and aunt who deserved deepest compassion. What worse shock was possible for an elderly, middle-aged New York lawyer than to return to his house at six o'clock and find that he is to have barely time for his dinner and cigar before being thrust out into the cold and hideous darkness of a February night, in order to travel some four hundred miles through a snow-bound country? It is true that he had received some little warning to arrange his affairs for an absence over Saturday, but at best the blow was a severe one, and he bore it with a silent fortitude which wrung his wife's heart. She was a masterful mistress, but she was good to those who obeyed, and she even showed the weakness of begging him not to go, although in her soul she knew that he must.

"After all, John, you needn't go with us. I can take the girls alone."

"As I understand it, you have engaged my professional services," he replied. "On the whole I prefer prevention to cure. I would rather help Esther to run away, than get her a divorce."

"When I am dead, you shall stay quietly at home and be perfectly happy," she answered, with the venerable device which wives, from earliest history, have used to palliate their own sins.

Nevertheless he felt almost as miserable as his wife, when, wrapped in cloaks and rugs, they left their bright dining room and shuffled down the steps into the outside darkness to their carriage. He expressed opinions about lovers which would have put a quick end to the human race had they been laws of nature. He wished the church would take them all and consign them to its own favorite place of punishment. He had a disagreeable trick of gibing at his wife's orthodoxy on this point, and when she remonstrated at his profanity, he smiled contentedly and said: "There is nothing profane about it. It is sound church doctrine, and I envy you for being able to believe it. You can hope to see them with your own eyes getting their reward, confound them!"

Consoling himself with this pleasing hope, they started off, and in five minutes were at Esther's door. After taking the two girls into the carriage, Mr. Murray became more affable and even gay. By the time the party was established in their sleeping car, he had begun to enjoy himself. He had too often made such journeys, and was too familiar with every thing on the road to be long out of humor, and for once it was amusing to have a pair of pretty girls to take with him. Commonly his best society was some member of the Albany Legislature, and his only conversation was about city charters and railroad legislation. The variety had its charm. Esther was as good as her word. She made a desperate battle to recover her gayety, and the little excitement of a night journey helped the triumph of her pride. Determined that she would not be an object of pity, she made the most of all her chances, pretended to take in earnest her uncle's humorous instructions as to the art of arranging a sleeping berth, and horrified her aunt by letting him induce Catherine and herself to eat hot doughnuts and mince pies on the train. It was outwardly a gay little party which rattled along the bank of the snowy river on their way northward.

The gayety, it is true, was forced. For the first ten minutes Esther felt excited by the sense of flight and the rapid motion which was carrying her she knew not where,--away into the infinite and unknown. What lay before her, beyond the darkness of the moment, she hardly cared. Never again could she go back to the old life, but like a young bird that has lost its mate, she must fly on through the gloom till it end. Unluckily all her thoughts brought her back to Hazard. Even this sense of resembling a bird that flies, it knows not where, recalled to her the sonnet of Petrarch which she had once translated for him, and which, since then, had been always on his lips, although she had never dreamed that it could have such meaning to her. Long after she had established herself in her berth, solitary and wakeful, the verses made rhythm with the beat of the car-wheels:


    "Vago augelletto che cantando vai!"


They were already far on their way, flying up the frozen stream of the Hudson, before she was left alone with her thoughts in the noisy quiet of the rushing train. She could not even hope to sleep. Propping herself up against the pillows, she raised the curtain of her window and stared into the black void outside. Nothing in nature could be more mysterious and melancholy than this dark, polar world, beside which a winter storm on the Atlantic was at least exciting. On the ocean the forces of nature have it their own way; nothing comes between man and the elements; but as Esther gazed out into the night, it was not the darkness, or the sense of cold, or the vagrant snow-flakes driving against the window, or the heavy clouds drifting through the sky, or even the ghastly glimmer and reflection of the snow-fields, that, by contrast, made the grave seem cheerful; it was rather the twinkling lights from distant and invisible farm-houses, the vague outlines of barn-yards and fences along doubtful roads, the sudden flash of lamps as the train hurried through unknown stations, or the unfamiliar places where it stopped, while the tap-tap of the train-men's hammers on the wheels beneath sounded like spirit-rappings. These signs of life behind the veil were like the steady lights of shore to the drowning fisherman off the reef outside. Every common-place kerosene lamp whose rays struggled from distant, snow-clad farms, brought a picture of peace and hope to Esther. Not one of these invisible roofs but might shelter some realized romance, some contented love. In so dark and dreary a world, what a mad act it was to fly from the only happiness life offered! What a strange idea to seek safety by refusing the only protection worth having! Love was all in all! Esther had never before felt herself so helpless as in the face of this outer darkness, and if her lover had now been there to claim her, she would have dropped into his arms as unresistingly as a tired child.

As the night wore on, the darkness and desolation became intolerable, and she shut them out, only to find herself suffocated by the imprisonment of her sleeping-berth. Hour after hour dragged on; the little excitement of leaving Albany was long past, and the train was wandering through the dullness of Central New York, when at last a faint suspicion of dim light appeared in the landscape, and Esther returned to her window. If any thing could be drearier than the blackness of night, it was the grayness of dawn, which had all the cold terror of death and all the grim repulsiveness of life joined in an hour of despair. Esther could now see the outlines of farm-houses as the train glided on; snow-laden roofs and sheds; long stretches of field with fences buried to their top rails in sweeping snow-drifts; in the houses, lights showed that toil had begun again; smoke rose from the chimneys; figures moved in the farm-yards; a sleigh could be seen on a decided road; the world became real, prosaic, practical, mechanical, not worth struggling about; a mere colorless, passionless, pleasureless grayness. As the mystery vanished, the pain passed and the brain grew heavy. Esther's eyelids drooped, and she sank at last into a sleep so sound that there was hardly need for Catherine to stand sentry before her berth and frown the car into silence. The sun was high above the horizon; the sky was bright and blue; the snowy landscape flashed with the sparkle of diamonds, when Esther woke, and it was with a cry of pleasure that she felt her spirits answer the sun.

Meanwhile her flight was no secret. As the train that carried her off drew out of the great station into the darkness for its long journey of three thousand miles, two notes were delivered to gentlemen only a few squares away. Strong at his club received one from Mrs. Murray: "We all start for Clifton at nine o'clock. Come to-morrow and bring a companion if you can. We need to be amused." The Reverend Stephen Hazard received the other note, which was still more brief, but long enough to strike him with panic; for it contained two words: "Good-by! Esther."

No sooner did Strong receive his missive than he set himself in active motion. Wharton, who commonly dined at the club, was so near that Strong had only to pass the note over to him. Whether Wharton was still suffering from the shock of his wife's appearance, or disappearance, or whether he was on the look-out for some chance to see again his friend Catherine, or whether he found it pleasanter to take a holiday than to attack his long arrears of work, the idea of running up to Niagara for Sunday happened to strike him as pleasant, and he promised to join Strong at the Erie Station in the morning. Strong knew him too well to count on his keeping the engagement, but could do no more, and they both left the club to make their preparations. Strong had another duty. Before stirring further, he must talk with Hazard. The affair was rapidly taking a shape that might embarrass them both.

Going directly to Hazard's house, he burst into the library, where he found his friend trying to work in spite of the heavy load on his mind. Throwing him Mrs. Murray's note, Strong waited without a word while Hazard read it more eagerly than though it had been a summons to a bishopric. The mysterious good-by, which had arrived but a few minutes before, had upset his nerves, and at first the note which Strong brought reassured him, for he thought that Mrs. Murray was earning out his own wishes and drawing Esther nearer to him.

"Then we have succeeded!" he cried.

"Not much!" said Strong dryly. "It is a genuine flight and escape in all the forms. You are out-generaled and your line of attack is left all in the air."

"I shall follow!" said Hazard, doggedly.

"No good! They are in earnest," replied Strong.

"So am I!" answered the clergyman sharply, while Strong threw himself into a chair, good-natured as ever, and said:

"Come along then! Will you go up with Wharton and me by the early train to-morrow?"

"Yes!" replied Hazard quickly. Then he paused; there were limits to his power and he began to feel them. "No!" he went on. "I can't get away to-morrow. I must wait till Sunday night."

"Better wait altogether," said Strong. "You take the chances against you."

"I told her I should follow her, and I shall," repeated Hazard stiffly. He felt hurt, as though Esther had rebelled against his authority, and he was not well pleased that Strong should volunteer advice.

"Give me my orders then!" said Strong. "Can I do any thing for you?"

"I shall be there on Monday afternoon. Telegraph me if they should decide to leave the place earlier. Try and keep them quiet till I get there!"

"Shall I tell them you are coming?"

"Not for your life!" answered Hazard impatiently. "Do all you can to soothe and quiet her. Hint that in my place you would come. Try to make her hope it, but not fear it."

"I will do all that to the letter," said Strong. "I feel partly responsible for getting you and Esther into this scrape, and am ready to go a long way to pull you through; but this done I stop. If Esther is in earnest, I must stand by her. Is that square?"

Hazard frowned severely and hesitated. "The real struggle is just coming," said he. "If you keep out of the way, I shall win. So far I have never failed with her. My influence over her to-day is greater than ever, or she would not try to run away from it. If you interfere I shall think it unkind and unfriendly."

To this Strong answered pleasantly enough, but as though his mind were quite made up: "I don't mean to interfere if I can help it, but I can't persecute Esther, if it is going to make her unhappy. As it is, I am likely to catch a scoring from my aunt for bringing you down on them, and undoing her work. I wish I were clear of the whole matter and Esther were a pillar of the church."

With this declaration of contingent neutrality, Strong went his way, and as he walked musingly back to his rooms, he muttered to himself that he had done quite as much for Hazard as the case would warrant: "What a trump the girl is, and what a good fight she is making! I believe I am getting to be in love with her myself, and if he gives it up--hum--yes, if he gives it up,--then of course Esther will go abroad and forget it."

Hazard's solitary thoughts were not quite so pointless. The danger of disappointment and defeat roused in him the instinct of martyrdom. He was sure that all mankind would suffer if he failed to get the particular wife he wanted. "It is not a selfish struggle," he thought. "It is a human soul I am trying to save, and I will do it in the teeth of all the powers of darkness. If I can but set right this systematically misguided conscience, the task is done. It is the affair of a moment when once the light comes;--A flash! A miracle! If I cannot wield this fire from Heaven, I am unfit to touch it. Let it burn me up!"

Early the next morning, not a little to their own surprise, Strong and Wharton found themselves dashing over the Erie Road towards Buffalo. They had a long day before them and luckily Wharton was in his best spirits. As for Strong he was always in good spirits. Within the memory of man, well or ill, on sea or shore, in peril or safety, Strong had never been seen unhappy or depressed. He had the faculty of interesting himself without an effort in the doings of his neighbors, and Wharton always had on hand some scheme which was to make an epoch in the history of art. Just now it was a question of a new academy of music which was to be the completest product of architecture, and to combine all the senses in delight. The Grand Opera at Paris was to be tame beside it. Here he was to be tied down by no such restraints as the church imposed on him; he was to have beauty for its own sake and to create the thought of a coming world. His decorations should make a revolution in the universe. Strong entered enthusiastically into his plans, but both agreed that preliminary studies were necessary both for architects and artists. The old world must be ransacked to the depths of Japan and Persia. Before their dinner-hour was reached, they had laid out a scheme of travel and study which would fill a life-time, while the Home of Music in New York was still untouched. After dinner and a cigar, they fought a prodigious battle over the influence of the Aryan races on the philosophy of art, and then, dusk coming on, they went to sleep, and finished an agreeable journey at about midnight.

When at last they drove up to the hotel door in the frosty night, and stamped their feet, chilled by the sleigh-ride from the station, the cataract's near roar and dim outline under the stars did not prevent them from warmly greeting Mr. Murray who sallied out to welcome them and to announce that their supper was waiting. The three women had long since gone to bed, but Mr. Murray staid up to have a chat with the boys. He was in high spirits. He owned that he had enjoyed his trip and was in no hurry to go home. While his nephew and Wharton attacked their supper, he sipped his Scotch whisky, and with the aid of a cigar, enlivened the feast.

"We got over here before three o'clock," said he, "and of course I took them out to drive at once. Esther sat in front with me and we let the horses go. Your aunt thinks I am unsafe with horses and I took some pains to prove that she was right. The girls liked it. They wouldn't have minded being tipped into a snow-bank, but I thought it would be rough on your aunt, so I brought them home safe, gave them a first-rate dinner and sent them off to bed hours ago, sleepy as gods. To-morrow you must take them in hand. I have made to-day what the newspapers call my most brilliant forensic effort, and I'll not risk my reputation again."

"Keep out of our way then!" said Strong. "Wharton and I mean to spill those two girls over the cliff unless Canadian horses know geology."

Esther slept soundly that night while the roar of the waters lulled her slumbers. The sun woke her the next morning to a sense of new life. Her room looked down on the cataract, and she had already taken a fancy to this tremendous, rushing, roaring companion, which thundered and smoked under her window, as though she had tamed a tornado to play in her court-yard. To brush her hair while such a confidant looked on and asked questions, was more than Pallas Athene herself could do, though she looked out forever from the windows of her Acropolis over the Blue Ægean. The sea is capricious, fickle, angry, fawning, violent, savage and wanton; it caresses and raves in a breath, and has its moods of silence, but Esther's huge playmate rambled on with its story, in the same steady voice, never shrill or angry, never silent or degraded by a sign of human failings, and yet so frank and sympathetic that she had no choice but to like it. "Even if it had nothing to tell me, its manners are divine," said Esther to herself as she leaned against the window sash and looked out. "And its dress!" she ran on. "What a complexion, to stand dazzling white and diamonds in the full sunlight!" Yet it was not the manners or the dress of her new friend that most won Esther's heart. Her excitement and the strain of the last month had left her subject to her nerves and imagination. She was startled by a snow-flake, was reckless and timid by turns, and her fancy ran riot in dreams of love and pain. She fell in love with the cataract and turned to it as a confidant, not because of its beauty or power, but because it seemed to tell her a story which she longed to understand. "I think I do understand it," she said to herself as she looked out. "If he could only hear it as I do," and of course "he" was Mr. Hazard; "how he would feel it!" She felt tears roll down her face as she listened to the voice of the waters and knew that they were telling her a different secret from any that Hazard could ever hear. "He will think it is the church talking!" Sad as she was, she smiled as she thought that it was Sunday morning, and a ludicrous contrast flashed on her mind between the decorations of St. John's, with its parterre of nineteenth century bonnets, and the huge church which was thundering its gospel under her eyes.

To have Niagara for a rival is no joke. Hazard spoke with no such authority; and Esther's next idea was one of wonder how, after listening here, any preacher could have the confidence to preach again. "What do they know about it?" she asked herself. "Which of them can tell a story like this, or a millionth part of it?" To dilute it in words and translate bits of it for school-girls, or to patronize it by defense or praise, was somewhat as though Esther herself should paint a row of her saints on the cliff under Table Rock. Even to fret about her own love affairs in such company was an impertinence. When eternity, infinity and omnipotence seem to be laughing and dancing in one's face, it is well to treat such visitors civilly, for they come rarely in such a humor.

So much did these thoughts interest and amuse her that she took infinite pains with her toilet in order to honor her colossal host whose own toilet was sparkling with all the jewels of nature, like an Indian prince whose robes are crusted with diamonds and pearls. When she came down to the breakfast-room, Strong, who was alone there, looked up with a start.

"Why, Esther!" he broke out, "take care, or one of these days you will be handsome!"

Catherine too was pretty as a fawn, and was so honestly pleased to meet Wharton again that he expanded into geniality. As for broken hearts, no self-respecting young woman shows such an ornament at any well regulated breakfast-table; they are kept in dark drawers and closets like other broken furniture. Esther had made the deadliest resolution to let no trace of her unhappiness appear before her uncle, and Mr. Murray, who saw no deeper than other men into the heart-problem, was delighted with the gayety of the table, and proud of his own success as a physician for heart complaints. Mrs. Murray, who knew more about her own sex, kept her eye on the two girls with more anxiety than she cared to confess. If any new disaster should happen, the prospect would be desperate, and it was useless to deny that she had taken risks heavy enough to stagger a professional gambler. The breakfast table looked gay and happy enough, and so did the rapids which sparkled and laughed in the distance.

After breakfast the two young women, with much preparation of boots, veils and wraps, went off with Strong and Wharton for a stroll down to the banks of the river. The two older members of the party remained quietly in their parlor, thinking that the young people would get on better by themselves. As the four wandered down the road, Mr. Murray watched them, and noticed the natural way in which Esther joined Strong, while Catherine fell to Wharton. Standing with his hands in his trousers' pockets and his nose close to the window-pane, Mr. Murray looked after them as they disappeared down the bank, and then, without turning round, he made a remark as husbands do, addressed to the universe and intended for his wife.

"I suppose that is what you are driving at."

"What?" asked Mrs. Murray.

"I don't mind George and Esther, but I grudge Catherine to that man Wharton. He may be a good artist, but I think his merits as a husband beneath criticism. I believe every woman would connive at a love affair though the man had half a dozen living wives, and had been hung two or three times for murder."

"I wish Esther were as safe as I think Catherine," said Mrs. Murray. "It would surprise me very much if Catherine took Mr. Wharton now, but if Mr. Hazard were to walk round the corner, I should expect to see Esther run straight into his arms."

"Hazard!" exclaimed Mr. Murray. "I thought he was out of the running and you meant Esther for George."

"I am not a match-maker, and I've no idea that Esther will ever marry George," replied Mrs. Murray with the patience which wives sometimes show to husbands whom they think obtuse.

"Then what is it you want?" asked Mr. Murray, with some signs of rebellion, but still talking to the window-pane, with his hands in his pockets. "You encourage a set of clever men to hang round two pretty girls, and you profess at the same time not to want anything to come of it. That kind of conduct strikes an ordinary mind as inconsistent."

"I want to prevent one unhappy marriage, not to make two," replied his wife. "Girls must have an education, and the only way they can get a good one is from clever men. As for falling in love, they will always do that whether the men are clever or not. They must take the risk."

"And what do you mean to do with them when they are educated?" inquired he.

"I mean them to marry dull, steady men in Wall Street, without any manners, and with their hands in their pockets," answered Mrs. Murray, her severity for once mingled with a touch of sweetness.

"Thank you," replied her husband, at last turning round. "Then that is to be the fruit of all this to-do?"

"I am sure it is quite fruit enough," rejoined she. "The business of educating their husbands will take all the rest of their lives."

Mr. Murray reflected a few minutes, standing with his back to the fire and gazing at his wife. Then he said: "Sarah, you are a clever woman. If you would come into my office and work steadily, you could double my income at the bar; but you need practice; your points are too fine; you run too many risks, and no male judge would ever support your management of a case. As practice I grant you it is bold and has much to recommend it, but in the law we cannot look so far ahead. Now, why won't you let Esther marry George?"

"I shall practice only before women judges," replied Mrs. Murray, "and I will undertake to say that I never should find one so stupid as not to see that George is not at all the sort of man whom a girl with Esther's notions would marry. If I tried to make her do it, I should be as wrong-headed as some men I know."

"I suppose you don't mean to put yourself in George's way, if he asks her," inquired Mr. Murray rather anxiously.

"My dear husband, there is no use in thinking about George one way or the other. Do put him out of your head! You fancy because Esther seems bright this morning, that she might marry George to-morrow. Now I can see a great deal more of Esther's mind than you, and I tell you that it is all we can do to prevent her from recalling Mr. Hazard, and that if we do prevent it, we shall have to take her abroad for at least two years before she gets over the strain."

At this emphatic announcement that his life was to be for two years a sacrifice to Esther's love-affairs, Mr. Murray retired again to his window and meditated in a more subdued spirit. He knew that protest would avail nothing.

Meanwhile the two girls were already down on the edge of the icy river, talking at first of the scene which lay before their eyes.

"Think what the Greeks would have done with it!" said Wharton. "They would have set Zeus in a throne on Table Rock, firing away his lightnings at Prometheus under the fall."

"Just for a change I rather like our way of sticking advertisements there," said Catherine. "It makes one feel at home."

"A woman feels most the kind of human life in it," said Esther.

"A big, rollicking, Newfoundland dog sort of humanity," said Strong.

"You are all wrong," said Catherine. "The fall is a woman, and she is as self-conscious this morning as if she were at church. Look at the coquetry of the pretty curve where the water falls over, and the lace on the skirt where it breaks into foam! Only a woman could do that and look so pretty when she might just as easily be hideous."

"It is not a woman! It is a man!" broke in Esther vehemently. "No woman ever had a voice like that!" She felt hurt that her cataract should be treated as a self-conscious woman.

"Now, Mr. Wharton!" cried Catherine, appealing to the artist: "Now, you see I'm right, and self-consciousness is sometimes a beauty."

Wharton answered this original observation of nature by a lecture which may be read to more advantage in his printed works. It ended by Catherine requiring him to draw for her the design of a dress which should have the soul of Niagara in its folds, and while he was engaged in this labor, which absorbed Catherine's thoughts and gave her extreme amusement, Esther strolled on with Strong, and for nearly an hour walked up and down the road, or leaned against the rock in sheltered places where the sun was warm. At first they went on talking of the scenery, then Esther wanted to know about the geology, and quickly broke in on Strong's remarks upon this subject by questions which led further and further away from it. The river boiled at their feet; the sun melted the enormous icicles which hung from the precipice behind them; a mass of frozen spray was banked up against the American fall opposite them, making it look like an iceberg, and snow covered every thing except the perpendicular river banks and the dark water. The rainbow hung over the cataract, and the mist rose from the furious waters into the peace of the quiet air.

"You know what has happened?" she asked.

Strong nodded assent. He was afraid to tell her how much he knew.

"Do you think I have done wrong?"

"How can I tell without knowing all your reasons?" he asked. "It looks to me as though you were uncertain of yourself and cared less for him than he for you. If I were in his place I should follow you close up, and refuse to leave you."

Esther gave a little gasp: "You don't think he will do that? if he does, I shall run away again."

"Why run away? if you really want to get rid of him, why not make him run away?"

"Because I don't want to make him run away from me, and because I don't know how. If I could only get him away from his church! All I know about it is that I can't be a clergyman's wife, but the moment that I try to explain why, he proves to me that my reasons are good for nothing."

"Are you sure he's not right?" asked Strong.

"Perfectly sure!" replied Esther earnestly. "I can't reason it out, but I feel it. I believe you could explain it if you would, but when I asked you, in the worst of my trouble, you refused to help me."

"I gave you all the help I could, and I am ready to give you whatever you want more," replied Strong.

"Tell me what you think about religion!"

Strong drew himself together with a perceptible effort: "I think about it as little as possible," said he.

"Do you believe in a God?"

"Not in a personal one."

"Or in future rewards and punishments?"

"Old women's nursery tales!"

"Do you believe in nothing?"

"There is evidence amounting to strong probability, of the existence of two things," said Strong, slowly, and as though in his lecture-room.

"What are they, if you please?"

"Should you know better if I said they were mind and matter?"

"You believe in nothing else?"

"N-N-No!" hesitated Strong.

"Isn't it horrible, your doctrine?"

"What of that, if it's true? I never said it was pleasant."

"Do you expect to convert any one to such a religion?"

"Great Buddha, no! I don't want to convert any one. I prefer almost any kind of religion. No one ever took up this doctrine who could help himself."

Esther pondered deeply for a time. Strong's trick of driving her to do what he wanted was so old a habit that she had learned to distrust it. At last she began again from another side.

"You really mean that this life is every thing, and the future nothing?"

"I never said so. I rather think the church is right in thinking this life nothing and the future every thing."

"But you deny a future life!"

Strong began to feel uncomfortable. He wanted to defend his opinions, and it became irksome to go on making out the strongest case he could against himself.

"Come!" said he: "don't go beyond what I said. I only denied the rewards and punishments. Mind! I'll not say there is a future life, but I don't deny it's possibility."

"You are willing to give us a chance?" said Esther rather sarcastically.

"I don't know that you would call it one," replied Strong satisfied by Esther's irony that he had now gone far enough. "If our minds could get hold of one abstract truth, they would be immortal so far as that truth is concerned. My trouble is to find out how we can get hold of the truth at all."

"My trouble is that I don't think I understand in the least what you mean," replied Esther.

"I thought you knew enough theology for that," said George. "The thing is simple enough. Hazard and I and every one else agree that thought is eternal. If you can get hold of one true thought, you are immortal as far as that thought goes. The only difficulty is that every fellow thinks his thought the true one. Hazard wants you to believe in his, and I don't want you to believe in mine, because I've not got one which I believe in myself."

"Still I don't understand," said Esther. "How can I make myself immortal by taking Mr. Hazard's opinions?"

"Because then the truth is a part of you! if I understand St. Paul, this is sound church doctrine, leaving out the personal part of the Trinity which Hazard insists on tacking to it. Except for the rubbish, I don't think I am so very far away from him," continued Strong, now assuming that he had done what he could to set Esther straight, and going on with the conversation as though it had no longer a personal interest. As he talked, he poked holes in the snow with his stick, as though what he said was for his own satisfaction, and he were turning this old problem over again in his mind to see whether he could find any thing new at the bottom of it. "I can't see that my ideas are so brutally shocking. We may some day catch an abstract truth by the tail, and then we shall have our religion and immortality. We have got far more than half way. Infinity is infinitely more intelligible to you than you are to a sponge. If the soul of a sponge can grow to be the soul of a Darwin, why may we not all grow up to abstract truth? What more do you want?"

As he looked up again, saying these words without thinking of Esther's interest, he was startled to see that this time she was listening with a very different expression in her face. She broke in with a question which staggered him.

"Does your idea mean that the next world is a sort of great reservoir of truth, and that what is true in us just pours into it like raindrops?"

"Well!" said he, alarmed and puzzled: "the figure is not perfectly correct, but the idea is a little of that kind."

"After all I wonder whether that may not be what Niagara has been telling me!" said Esther, and she spoke with an outburst of energy that made Strong's blood run cold.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 18:26 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 8

 

 

Mr. Hazard was not happy. Like Esther he felt himself getting into a state of mind that threatened to break his spirit. He had been used to ordering matters much as he pleased. His parish at Cincinnati, being his creation, had been managed by him as though he owned it, but at St. John's he found himself less free, and was conscious of incessant criticism. He had been now some months in his new pulpit; his popular success had been marked; St. John's was overflowing with a transient audience, like a theater, to the disgust of regular pew-owners; his personal influence was great; but he felt that it was not yet, and perhaps never could be, strong enough to stand the scandal of his marriage to a woman whose opinions were believed to be radical. On this point he was not left in doubt, for the mere suspicion of his engagement raised a little tempest in the pool. The stricter sect, not without reason, were scandalized. They held to their creed, and the bare mention of Esther Dudley's name called warm protests from their ranks. They flatly said that it would be impossible for Mr. Hazard to make them believe his own doctrine to be sound, if he could wish to enter into such a connection. None but a free-thinker could associate with the set of free-thinkers, artists and other unusual people whose society Mr. Hazard was known to affect, and his marriage to one of them would give the unorthodox a hold on the parish which would end by splitting it.

One of his strongest friends, who had done most to bring him to New York and make his path pleasant, came to him with an account of what was said and thought, softening the expression so as to bear telling.

"You ought to hear about it," said he, "so I tell you; but it is between you and me. I don't ask whether you are engaged to Miss Dudley. For my own pleasure, I wish you may be. If I were thirty years younger I would try for her myself; but we all know that she has very little more religious experience than a white rosebud. I'm not strict myself, I don't mind a little looseness on the creed, but the trouble is that every old woman in the parish knows all about the family. Her father, William Dudley, a great friend of mine as you know, was a man who liked to defy opinion and never hid his contempt for ours. He paid for a pew at St. John's because, he said, society needs still that sort of police. But he has told me a dozen times that he could get more police for his money by giving it to the Roman Catholics. He never entered his pew. His brother-in-law Murray is just as bad, never goes near the church, and is always poking fun at us who do. The professor is a full-fledged German Darwinist, and believes in nothing that I know of, unless it is himself. Esther took to society, and I'm told by my young people that she was one of the best waltzers in town until she gave it up for painting and dinners. Her set never bothered their heads about the church. Of the whole family, Mrs. Murray is the only one who has any weight in the parish, and she has a good deal, but if I know her, she won't approve the match any more than the rest, and you must expect to get the reputation of being unorthodox. Only yesterday old Tarbox told me he thought you were rather weak on the Pentateuch, and the best I could say was that now-a-days we must choose between weak doctrines and weak brains, and of the two, I preferred to let up on the Pentateuch."

All this was the more annoying to Mr. Hazard because his orthodoxy was his strong point. Like most vigorous-minded men, seeing that there was no stopping-place between dogma and negation, he preferred to accept dogma. Of all weaknesses he most disliked timid and half-hearted faith. He would rather have jumped at once to Strong's pure denial, than yield an inch to the argument that a mystery was to be paltered with because it could not be explained. The idea that these gossiping parishioners of his should undertake to question his orthodoxy, tried his temper. He knew that they disliked his intimacy with artists and scientific people, but he was not afraid of his parish, and meant that his parish should be a little afraid of him. He preferred to give them some cause of fault-finding in order to keep them awake. His greatest annoyance came from another side. If such gossip should reach Esther's ears, it would go far towards driving her beyond his control, and he knew that even without this additional alarm, it was with the greatest difficulty he could quiet and restrain her. The threatened disaster was terrible enough when looked at as a mere question of love, but it went much deeper. He was ready to override criticism and trample on remonstrance if he could but succeed in drawing her into the fold, because his lifelong faith, that all human energies belonged to the church, was on trial, and, if it broke down in a test so supreme as that of marriage, the blow would go far to prostrate him forever. What was his religious energy worth if it did not carry him successfully through such stress, when the strongest passion in life was working on its side?

At the hour when Strong was making his disastrous attempt to relieve Esther of her scruples, Mr. Hazard was listening to these exasperating criticisms from his parish. It was his habit to come every day at noon to pass an hour with Esther, and as he entered the house to-day he met Strong leaving it, and asked him to spare the time for a talk the same evening. He wanted Strong's advice and help.

A brace of lovers in lower spirits than Hazard and Esther could not have been easily found in the city of New York or its vicinity this day, and the worst part of their depression was that each was determined to hide it from the other. Esther could not tell him much more than he already knew, and would not throw away her charm over him by adding to his anxieties, while he knew that any thing he could tell her would add to her doubts and perhaps drive her to some sudden and violent step. Luckily they were too much attached to each other to feel the full awkwardness of their attitude.

"It is outrageously pleasant to be with you," he said. "One's conscience revolts against such enjoyment. I wonder whether I should ever get enough."

"I shall never give you a chance," said she. "I shall be strict with you and send you off to your work before you can get tired of me."

"You make me shockingly weary of my work," he answered. "At times I wish I could stop making a labor of religion, and enjoy it a little. How pleasant it would be to go off to Japan together and fill our sketch-books with drawings."

This suggestion came on Esther so suddenly that she forgot herself and gave a little cry of delight. "Oh, are you in earnest?" she said. "It seems to me that I could crawl and swim there if you would go with me."

Then she saw her mistake. Her outburst of pleasure gave him pain. He was displeased with himself for speaking so thoughtlessly, for this idea of escape made both of them conscious of the chasm on whose edge they stood.

"No, I wish I could be in earnest," he answered, "but I have just begun work, and there is no vacation for me. You must keep up my courage. Without your help I shall break down."

If he had thought out in advance some device for distressing her, he could not have succeeded better. She had just time to realize the full strength of her love for him, when he thrust the church between them, and bade her love him for its sake. The delight of wandering through the world by his side flashed on her mind only to show a whole Fifth Avenue congregation as her rival. The conviction that the church was hateful to her and that she could never trust herself to obey or love it, forced itself on her at the very moment when she felt that life was nothing without her lover, and that to give up all the world besides in order to go with him, would be the only happiness she cared to ask of her destiny. The feeling was torture. So long as he remained she controlled it, but when he went away she wrung her hands in despair and asked herself again and again what she could do; whether she was not going mad with the strain of these emotions.

Before she had fairly succeeded in calming herself, her aunt came to take her out for their daily drive. Since her father's death, this drive with her aunt, or a walk with Catherine, had been her only escape from the confinement of the house, and she depended on it more than on food and drink. They went first to some shops where Mrs. Murray had purchases to make, and Esther sat alone in the carriage while her aunt was engaged within in buying whatever household articles were on her list for the day. As Esther, sitting quietly in the corner of the carriage, mechanically watched the passers-by, she saw the familiar figure of Mr. Wharton among them, and, with a sudden movement of her old vivacity, she bent forward, caught his eye, and held out her hand. He stopped before the carriage window, and spoke with more than common cordiality.

"I wanted to come and see you, but I heard you received no one."

"I will always see you," she replied.

Looking more than ever shy and embarrassed he said that he should certainly come as soon as his work would let him, and meanwhile he wanted her to know how glad he was to be able at last to offer his congratulations.

"Congratulations? On what?" said she, beginning to flush scarlet.

Wharton stammered out: "I was this moment told by a lady of your acquaintance that your engagement to Mr. Hazard was formally announced to-day."

Esther grew as pale as she had been red, and answered quietly: "When my engagement to any one is announced, I promise to let you know of it, Mr. Wharton, before the world knows it."

He apologized and passed on. Esther, shrinking back into her corner, struggled in vain to recover from this new blow. Mrs. Murray, on returning, found her in a state of feverish excitement.

"I am being dragged in against my will," said she. "I am beyond my depth. What am I to do?"

"Most women feel so at first," replied her aunt calmly. "Many want to escape. Some are afterwards sorry they didn't."

"Have you heard of this too, and not told me?" asked Esther.

Mrs. Murray had thought too long over the coming trouble to hesitate now that the moment had come. She had watched for the crisis; her mind was made up to take her share of the responsibility; so she now settled herself down to the task. As the thing had to be done, she thought that the shortest agony was the most merciful.

"Yes!" she answered. "Several persons have mentioned it to me, and I have had to profess not to know what they meant."

"What did they say?" asked Esther breathlessly.

"The only one who has talked openly to me about it is your friend Mrs. Dyer. The story came from her, and I believe she invented it. Of course she disapproves. I never knew her to approve."

"What reason does she give?"

"She says that you are an amiable girl, but one given up to worldly pursuits and without a trace of religious principle; the last woman to make a clergyman's wife, though you might do very well for an artist or somebody wicked enough for you, as I gathered her idea. I am told that she amuses herself by adding that she never took Mr. Hazard for a clergyman, and the sooner he quits the pulpit, the better. She is never satisfied without hitting every one she can reach."

"What does she want?" asked Esther.

"I suppose she wants to break off the intimacy. She thinks there is no actual engagement yet, and the surest way to prevent one is to invent one in time."

Esther reflected a few minutes before beginning again.

"Aunt, do you think I am fit to be his wife?"

"It all depends on you," replied Mrs. Murray. "If you feel yourself fit, you are the best person in the world for it. You would be a brand saved from the burning, and it will be a great feather in Mr. Hazard's cap to convert you into a strong church-woman. He could then afford to laugh at Mrs. Dyer, and all the parish would laugh with him."

"Aunt!" said Esther in an awe-struck tone; "I am jealous of the church. I never shall like it."

"Then, Esther, you are doing very wrong to let Mr. Hazard think you can marry him. You will ruin him, and yourself too."

"He has seen how I have struggled," answered Esther with a sort of sob. "I never knew how gentle and patient a man could be until I saw how he helped me. He began by taking all the risk. I told him faithfully that I was not fit for him, and he said that he only asked me to love him. I did love him. I love him so much that if he were a beggar in the street here and wanted me, I would get down and pick up rags with him."

She moaned out this last sentence so piteously that Mrs. Murray's heart bled. "Poor child!" she thought. "It is like crushing a sparrow with a stone. I must do it quickly."

"Tell him all about it, Esther! It is his affair more than yours. If his love is great enough to take you as you are, do your best, and never let him repent it; but you must make him choose between you and his profession."

"I can't do that!" said Esther quickly. "I would rather go on and leave it all to chance."

"If you do," replied Mrs. Murray, "You will only put yourself into his hands. Sooner or later Mr. Hazard must find out that you don't belong to him. Then it will be his duty to make you choose between your will and his. You had better not let yourself be put in such a position. A woman can afford to break an engagement, but she can't afford to be thrown over by a man, not even if he is a clergyman, and that is what Mr. Hazard will have to do to you if you let him go on."

"Oh, I know him better!" broke out Esther. She resented bitterly this cruel charge against her lover, but nevertheless it cut into her quivering nerves until her love seemed to wither under it. The idea that he could ever want to get rid of her was the last drop in her cup of bitterness. Mrs. Murray knew how to crush her sparrow. She needed barely five minutes to do it. From the moment that Esther's feminine pride was involved, the sparrow was dead.

Certainly Hazard had as yet no thought of giving up his prize, but he had reached the first stage of wondering what he should do with it. Naturally sanguine and perhaps a little spoiled by flattery and success, he had taken for granted that Esther would at once absorb her existence in his. He hoped that she would become, like most converts, more zealous than himself. After a week of trial, finding her not only unaffected by his influence but actually slipping more and more from his control, he began to feel an alarm which grew more acute every hour, and brought him for the first time face to face with the possibility of failure. What could he do to overcome this fatal coldness.

With very uneasy feelings he admitted that a step backwards must be taken, and it was for this purpose that he wanted to consult with Strong. Never was the Church blessed with a stranger ally than this freest of free thinkers, who looked at churches very much as he would have looked at a layer of extinct oysters in a buried mud-bank. Strong's notion was that since the Church continued to exist, it probably served some necessary purpose in human economy, though he could himself no more understand the good of it than he could comprehend the use of human existence in any shape. Since men and women were here, idiotic and purposeless as they might be, they had what they chose to call a right to amuse themselves in their own way, and if this way made some happy without hurting others, Strong was ready enough to help. He was as willing to help Hazard as to help Esther, provided the happiness of either seemed to be within reach; and as for forms of faith it seemed to him as easy to believe one thing as another. If Esther believed any thing at all, he could see no reason why she might not believe whatever Hazard wanted.

With all the good-will in the world he came from his club after dinner to Hazard's house. As the way was short he did not even grumble, knowing that he could smoke his cigar as well at one place as at the other. He found Hazard in his library, walking up and down, with more discouragement on his face than Strong had ever seen there before. The old confusion of the room had not quite disappeared; the books were not yet all arranged on their shelves; pictures still leaned against the wall; dust had accumulated on them, and even on the large working table where half-written sermons lay scattered among a mass of notes, circulars, invitations and unanswered letters. It was clear that Mr. Hazard was not an orderly person and needed nothing so much as a wife. Esther would have been little flattered at the remark, now rather common among his older friends, that almost any wife would be better for him than none.

With an echo of his old boyish cordiality he welcomed Strong, gave him the best easy-chair by the fire, and told him to smoke as much as he liked.

"Perhaps a cigar will give you wisdom," he added. "You will need it, for I want to consult you about Esther."

"Don't!" said Strong laconically.

"Hush!" replied Hazard. "You put me out. I don't consult you because I like it, but because I must. The matter is becoming serious, and I must either consult you or Mrs. Murray. I prefer to begin with you. It's a habit I have."

"At your own risk, then!"

"I suppose I shall have to take whatever risk there is in it," answered Hazard. "I must do something, for if my amiable parishioner, Mrs. Dyer, gets at Esther in her present state of mind, the poor child will work herself into a brain fever. But first tell me one thing! Were you ever in love with Esther yourself!"

"Never!" replied Strong, peacefully. "Esther always told me that I had nothing but chalk and plate-glass in my mind, and could never love or be loved. We have discussed it a good deal. She says I am an old glove that fits well enough but will not cling. Of course it was her business to make me cling and I told her so. No! I never was in love with her, but I have been nearer it these last ten days than ever before. She will come out of her trouble either made or marred, and a year hence I will tell you which."

"Take care," said Hazard. "I have learned to conquer all my passions except jealousy, and that I have never yet tried."

"If she marries you," replied Strong, "that will settle it."

"If she marries me!" broke out Hazard, paying no attention to Strong's quiet assumption that for Esther to be thus married was to be marred. "Do you mean that there is any doubt about it?"

"I supposed that was what you wanted to talk about," answered Strong with some surprise. "Is any thing else the matter?"

"You always put facts in a horribly materialistic way," responded Hazard. "I wanted to consult you about making things easier for her, not about broken engagements."

"Bless your idealistic soul!" said Strong. "I have already tried to help her in that way, and made a shocking piece of work. Has not Esther told you?" and he went on to give his friend an account of the morning's conversation in which his attempt to preach the orthodox faith had suffered disastrous defeat. Hazard listened closely, and at the end sat for some time silent in deep thought. Then he said:

"Esther told me something of this, though I did not get the idea it was so serious. I am glad to know the whole; but you should not have tried to discipline her. Leave the thunders of the church to me."

"What could I do?" asked Strong. "She jammed me close up to the wall. I did not know where to turn. You would have been still less pleased if I had done what she wanted, and given her the whole Agnostic creed."

"I am not quite so sure about that," rejoined Hazard thoughtfully. "I am never afraid of pure atheism; it is the flabby kind of sentimental deism that annoys me, because it is as slippery as air. If you will tell her honestly what your skepticism means, I will risk the consequences."

"Just as you like!" said Strong; "if she attacks me again, I will give her the strongest kind of a dose of what you are pleased to call pure atheism. Not that I mind what it is called. She shall have it crude. Only remember that I prefer to tackle her on the other side."

"Do as you please!" said Hazard. "Now let us come to business. All Esther wants is time. I am as certain as I can be of any thing in this uncertain world, that a few weeks, or at the outside a few months, will quiet all her fears. What I want is to stop this immediate strain which is enough to distract any woman."

"Stop the strain of course!" said Strong. "I want to stop it almost as much as you do, but it looked to me this morning as though what you call strain were a steady drift which pays no sort of heed to our trying to stop it."

"I feel sure it is only nervousness," said Hazard earnestly. "Give her time, quiet and rest! She will come out right."

"Then what is it that I can do?"

"Help me to get her out of New York."

"I will ask my aunt to help you," replied Strong; "but how are we to do it? The earthly paradise is not to be found in this neighborhood in the middle of February."

"Never mind! If you and she will back me, we can do it, and it must be done instantly to be of use. There is no end of parish gossip which must not come to Esther's ears, or it will drive her wild. Take her to Florida, California, or even to Europe if you can! Give me time to smooth things down! If she stays here we shall all be the worse for it."

As usual, Hazard had his way. George consented to do all he asked and even to take Esther away himself if it were necessary. The next morning he appeared soon after breakfast at his aunt's to report Hazard's wishes and to devise the means of satisfying them. Much to his relief, and rather to his astonishment, he found Mrs. Murray disposed to look with favor on the idea. She listened quietly to his story, and after a little reflection, asked:

"Where do you think we had best go?"

"Do you mean to go too?" asked Strong in surprise. "Why should you tear yourself up by the roots to please Hazard?"

"Those two girls can't go alone," said Mrs. Murray; "and as for me, I don't go to please Mr. Hazard. I don't think he is going to be pleased."

"Now what mischief are you brewing, Aunt Sarah? I am Hazard's friend, and bound to see him through. Don't make me a party to any scheme against him!"

"You are not very bright, George, and just now you are rather ridiculous, because you do not in the least know what you are about."

"Go on!" said Strong with irrepressible good nature. "Play out all your trumps and let my suit in!"

"Could you be ready to start for Niagara by to-morrow morning?" asked his aunt.

"To-morrow is Saturday. Yes! I could manage it."

"Could you get some pleasant man to go with you?"

"Not much chance!" he replied. "I might ask Wharton, but he is very busy."

"Try for him! I will send you a note to your club early this evening to say whether I shall want you or not. If I make you go, I shall go too, and take Esther and Catherine."

"I will do any thing you want," said Strong, "on condition that you tell me what you are about."

Mrs. Murray looked at her nephew with a pitying air, and said:

"Any one with common sense might see that Esther's engagement never could come to any thing."

"But you are trying to hold her to it."

"I am trying to do no such thing. I expect Esther to dismiss him; then she will need some change of scene, and I mean to take her away."

"To-day?" asked Strong in alarm.

"To-day or to-morrow! Sooner or later! We have got to be ready for it at any moment. Now do you understand?"

"I think I am beginning to catch on," replied Strong with a grave face. "I wish I were out of the scrape."

"I told you never to get into it," rejoined his aunt.

"Poor Hazard!" muttered George, wondering whether he could do anything to ward off this last blow from his friend.

Even as he spoke, the crisis was at hand. Mrs. Murray's calculations were exact. While Hazard had been arranging with Strong the plan for getting Esther away from New York, letting the engagement remain private, Esther, in a state of feverish restlessness was wearying Catherine with endless discussion of her trouble. Even Catherine felt that, one way or the other, it was time for this thing to stop. Esther had passed the stage of self-submission, and was in a mutinous mood. She had given up the effort to reconcile herself with her situation, and yet could talk of nothing but Hazard, until Catherine's good-nature was sorely tried.

"I never was such a bore till now," said Esther at length, as though she could not at all understand it. "I could sometimes be quite pleasant. I used to go about the house singing and laughing. Am I going mad?"

"Suppose we go mad together?" said Catherine. "I will if you will."

"Suppose we elope together!" said Esther. "Will you run off with me?"

"Any where but to Colorado," replied Catherine, "I have seen all I want of Colorado."

"We will take our wedding journey together and leave our husbands behind. Let them catch us if they can!" continued Esther, talking rapidly and feverishly.

"It would be rather fun to see Mr. Hazard driving Mr. Van Dam's fast trotters after us," remarked Catherine.

"When shall we go? Can we start now?"

"Don't you think we had better go to bed just now, and elope in the morning?" grumbled Catherine. "They can see us better by daylight."

"I tell you, Catherine, that I am in awful earnest. I mean to go away somewhere, and if you won't go with me, I shall go alone."

"Suppose they catch us?" said Catherine.

"I don't care! I am hopelessly wicked! I can't be respectable and believe the thirty-nine articles. I can't go to church every Sunday or hold my tongue or pretend to be pious."

"Then why don't you tell him so, and let him run away?" asked Catherine.

"Because then he would think it his duty to run," said Esther, "and I don't want to be run away from. Would you like to have the world think you were jilted?"

"How you do torture your poor brain!" said Catherine pityingly. "There! Go to bed now! It is long past midnight. To-morrow I will run you off, and you never shall go to church any more."

Esther was really in a way to alarm her friends. She went to bed as Catherine advised, but her sleep was feverish, as though she had dieted herself on opium. She acted over and over again the scene that lay before her, until her brain felt physically weary, as though it had run all night round and round its narrow chamber. Her head was so tired in the morning that it was a relief to get up and face real life. She dressed herself with uncommon care. She meant to keep her crown even though she threw away her kingdom, and though she should lose a husband, she intended to hold fast her lover. Women have the right to this coquetry with fate. Iphigenia herself, when the priests, who muffled her voice, stretched her on the altar and struck the knife in her throat, tried to charm them with her sad eyes while her saffron blood was flowing, and they saw that she would have charmed them with her voice even when hope had vanished.

The unfortunate Hazard was not precisely an Agamemnon, and would have liked nothing better than to stop the sacrifice which seemed to him much too closely like a triumph over himself. His own throat was the one which felt itself in closest danger of the knife. At noon, as usual, he came in, trying to conceal his anxiety under an appearance of confidence, but Esther's first words routed all his forces and drove him back to his last defense.

"I should not have let you come to-day. I ought to have written to bid you good-by, but it was too hard not to see you once more. I am going away."

"I am going with you," said Hazard quietly.

"No, you are not!" replied Esther. "You are to stay here and attend to your duties. Forget me as soon as you can."

Hazard took this address very good-naturedly, and neither showed nor felt surprise. "You have been tormented by this idea," he said, "and I am glad now to meet it face to face. For us to part is impossible. You and I are one. You cannot get yourself apart from me, though you may make us both unhappy; and even if you go away forever you will still belong to me. I could not release you if I would."

"I don't want to be released," said Esther. "If it were only for that, I would stay with you as long as you would let me. I would do whatever you told me, and never ask a question. But I will not be your evil genius. I will be your good genius or nothing."

"Be my good genius then! What stands in your way?"

"I have tried and failed. Already there is not a woman in your parish who is not saying that I shall ruin you and your career. I would rather die than run the risk of your thinking I had done you harm."

"If I, seeing all this, am willing to take the risk, why should you ally yourself against me with all the petty gossip of a parish?" asked Hazard. "Such talk will stop the moment you say the word. Let me go out now and announce our engagement! If I did not sometimes shock my parish, I could never manage them."

"But I would rather not be made useful in that way," said Esther with a momentary gleam of humor in her eyes. "No woman wants to be shocking. Now I have a favor to ask of you. It is the last, and I want you to promise to grant it."

"Not if it is to give you up."

"I want you to make it easy for me. I am trying to do right. I am so weak and unhappy after all that has happened that if you are cruel to me, I shall want to die. Be generous! You know I am right. Let me go quietly, and do not torture me!"

She sat down as they were talking. He, sinking into a chair by her side, took both her hands in his, and she did not try to free them. When she made her appeal, he answered as quietly and stubbornly as before: "Never! You are my wife, and my wife you will always be in my eyes. I shall not give you up. I shall not make it easy for you to give me up. I shall make it as hard as I can. I shall prevent it. But I will do anything you like to make our engagement easy, and I came to-day with something to propose."

No doubt, had Hazard taken her at her word and coolly walked away, Esther would have been very unpleasantly surprised. She did not expect him to obey her first orders, nor did she want to hurry the moment of separation, or to part from him with a feeling of bitterness. His presence always soothed and satisfied her, and she had never been calmer than now, when, with her hands in his, she waited for his new suggestion.

"I want you to do me a favor not nearly so great as the one you ask of me," said he. "Give me time! Go abroad, if you think best, but let our engagement stand! Let me come out and join you in the summer. I am ready to see you go where you like, and stay as long as you please, if you take me with you."

Esther reflected for a moment how she should answer. She had thought of this plan and rejected it long before, because it seemed to her to combine all possible objections, and to get rid of none. She knew that neither six months nor six years would make her a fit wife for Hazard, and that it would be dishonest to lure him on by any hope that she could change her nature; but it was not easy to put this in delicate words. At length she answered simply.

"I am almost the last person in the world whom you ought to marry. Time will only make me more unfit."

"Should you think so," he asked quickly, "if I were a lawyer, or a stock broker?"

She colored and withdrew her hands. "No!" she said. "If you were a stock broker I suppose I should be quite satisfied. Now I am low enough, am I not? Don't make me feel more degraded than I am. Let me go off alone and forget me!"

But Hazard continued to press his point with infinite patience and gentle obstinacy, until her powers of resistance were almost worn out. Again and again the tears came into her eyes, and she would have told him gladly to take her and do what he liked with her, if she had not steeled herself with the fixed thought that in this case the whole struggle must begin again, and he would know no better what to do with her than before. He would talk only of their love, attacking her where she could not defend herself, and took almost a pleasure in acknowledging that she was at his mercy.

"Oh, if you want only my love," she said at last with a gesture of despair, "I have lost all my pride. I would like nothing better than to lie down and die in your arms. I will promise to be faithful to you all my life; to go into a convent if you want it; to drown myself, or do any thing but lose your love."

"It is not so very much I ask," he urged. "You fear hurting me by marrying me. Do you ever reflect how much you will hurt me by refusing? Do you know how solitary I am? Not a human being counts for any thing in my life. When I go to my rooms, I am terrified to think how lonely they will seem unless I can keep you in my mind. You are the only woman I ever loved. You are my companion, my ideal, my life. We two souls have wandered about the universe from all eternity waiting to meet each other, and now after we have met and become one, you try to part us."

As he went on with this appeal, he wrought himself into stronger and stronger expression of feeling, while Esther fell back in her chair and covered her face with her hands.

"If I am willing to risk every thing for you, why should you refuse to grant me so small a favor as I ask? Look, Esther! What more can I do? Will you not make a little sacrifice of pride for me? Will you ever find another man to love you as I do?"

"How merciless you are!" sobbed Esther.

"I ask only for time," he hurried on. "To part from you now, in this room, at this moment, forever, is awful! You may go if you will, but I shall follow you. I will never give you up. You are mine--mine--mine!"

His passionate cry of love was more than flesh and blood could bear. With an uncontrollable impulse of self-abandonment Esther held out her hand to him and he seized her in his arms, kissing her passionately again and again, till she tore herself away.

"There, go!" said she, breathlessly. "Go! You are killing me!"

Without waiting an answer, she turned and hurried away to her room, where, flinging herself down, she sobbed till her hysterical passion wore itself out.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 18:10 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 7

 

 

The instant Esther felt herself really loved, she met her fate as women will when the shock is once over. Hazard had wanted her to love him, had pursued and caught her. Now when she turned to him and answered his call, she seemed to take possession of him and lift him up. By the time he left her house this Saturday evening, he felt that he had found a soul stronger and warmer than his own, and was already a little afraid of it. Every man who has at last succeeded, after long effort, in calling up the divinity which lies hidden in a woman's heart, is startled to find that he must obey the God he summoned.

Esther herself was more astonished than Hazard at the force of this feeling which swept her away. She suddenly found herself passionately attached to a man, whom, down to the last moment, she had thought she could never marry, and now could no more imagine life without him than she could conceive of loving any one else. For the moment she thought that his profession was nothing to her; she could believe whatever he believed and do whatever he did; and if her love, backed by her will, were not strong enough to make his life her own, she cared little what became of her, and could look with indifference on life itself. So far as she was concerned she thought herself ready to worship Woden or Thor, if he did.

The next morning she could not let him preach without being near him, and she made Catherine go with her to St. John's. They took their seats, not in her own pew but in a corner, where no one should notice them under their veils. The experiment was full of peril, though Esther did not know it. This new excitement, coming so swiftly after a fortnight of exhaustion, threw her back into a state of extreme nervousness. Of course the scene of Saturday evening was followed by a sleepless night, and when Sunday morning came, her very restlessness made her hope that she should find repose and calm within the walls of the church. She went believing that she needed nothing so much as the quieting influence of the service, and she was not disappointed, for her sweetest associations were here, and as she glanced timidly up to the scaffolding where her romance had been acted, she felt at home and happy, in spite of the crowd of people who swarmed about her and separated her from the things she loved. In the background stood the solemn and awful associations of the last few weeks, the mysteries and terrors of death, drawing her from thought of earthly things to visions of another world. Full of these deep feelings, saturated with the elixir of love, Esther succumbed to the first notes of the church music. Tears of peaceful delight stood in her eyes. She glanced up towards her Cecilia on the distant wall, wondering at its childishness. How deep a meaning she could give it now, and how religious a feeling!

She was not conscious of rustling silks or waving feathers; she hardly saw the swarm of fashionable people about her; it seemed to her that her old life had vanished as though she were dead; her soul might have taken shelter in the body of some gray linnet for all that she thought or cared about the vanities of human society. She wanted only to be loved and to love, without being thought of, or noticed; to nestle in her own corner, and let the world go by.

Unluckily the world would not go by. This world which she wanted to keep at arms' length, was at church once for all, and meant to stay there; it felt itself at home, and she, with her exclusive griefs and joys, was the stranger. So long as the music lasted, all was sympathetic enough, but when Mr. Hazard read the service, he seemed far-off and strange. He belonged not to her but to the world; a thousand people had rights of property in him, soul and body, and called their claim religion. What had she to do with it? Parts of the service jarred on her ear. She began to take a bitter pleasure in thinking that she had nothing, not even religious ideas, in common with these people who came between her and her lover. Her fatigue steadily worked on her nerves. By the time the creed was read, she could not honestly feel that she believed a word of it, or could force herself to say that she ever should believe it.

With fading self-confidence she listened to the sermon. It was beautiful, simple, full of feeling and even of passion, but she felt that it was made for her, and she shrank before the thousand people who were thus let into the secret chambers of her heart. It treated of death and its mystery, covering ignorance with a veil of religious hope, and ending with an invocation of infinite love so intense in feeling and expression that, beautiful as it was, Esther forgot its beauties in the fear that the next word would reveal her to the world. This sort of publicity was new to her, and threw her back on herself until religion was forgotten in the alarm. She became more jealous than ever. What business had these strangers with her love? Why should she share it with them? When the service was over, she hurried Catherine away so quickly that they were both at home before the church was fairly empty.

This was the end of her short happiness. She knew that through the church door lay the only road to her duty and peace of mind. To see that the first happy impression had lasted barely half an hour, and instead of bringing peace, had brought irritation, was cause enough to alarm the most courageous young woman who ever rushed into the maelstrom of matrimony.

When they had reached home, she flung herself into a chair and covered her face with her hands.

"Catherine!" said she solemnly; "what am I to do? I don't like church."

"You would like your's amazingly," said Catherine, "if you had ever been to mine."

"Was your's worse?"

"If Mrs. Murray hadn't improved my manners so much, I should smile. Was mine worse? I wish you and Mr. Hazard would try it for a change. Mrs. Dyer would like to see you both undergoing discipline. Never joke about serious matters! You had better hold your tongue and be glad to live in a place where your friends let your soul alone."

"But I can't sit still and hear myself turned into a show! I can't share him with all Fifth Avenue. I want no one else to have him. To see him there devoting himself and me to a stupid crowd of people, who have as much right to him as I have, drives religion out of my head."

Catherine treated this weakness with high contempt.

"I might as well be jealous," said she, "of the people who look at Mr. Wharton's pictures, or read Petrarch's sonnets in my sweet translation. Did you ever hear that Laura found fault with Petrarch, or, if she did, that any one believed she was in earnest?"

"It is not the same thing," said Esther. "He believes in his church more than he does in me. If I can't believe in it, he will have to give me up."

"He, give you up!" said Catherine. "The poor saint! You know he is silly about you."

"He must give me up, if I am jealous of his congregation, and won't believe what he preaches," replied Esther mournfully.

"Why should you care what he preaches?" asked Catherine; "you never heard your aunt troubling her head about what Mr. Murray says when he goes to court."

"She is not forced to go to court with him," said Esther; "nor to be a mother to all the old women in the court-room; nor to say that she believes--believes--believes--when in her heart she doesn't believe a word."

Hazard appeared in the middle of this dispute, and Esther, troubled as she was, could not bear to distress him. She still meant to accept every thing and force herself to follow him in silence; she would go where he led, and never once raise her eyes to look for the horizon. As she said to herself quite seriously, though with a want of reverence that augured ill; "I will go down on my knees and help him, though he turn Bonze and burn incense to Buddha in my very studio!" His presence always soothed her. His gayety and affection never failed to revive her spirits and confidence.

"Wasn't it a good sermon?" said he to Catherine as he came in, with his boyish laugh of triumph. "Give me a little praise! I never got a word of encouragement from you in my life."

"I should as soon think of encouraging a whole herd of Texas cattle," answered Catherine. "What good can my praise do you?"

"You child of nature, don't you know that children of nature like you always grow wild and need no cultivation, but that we artificial flowers can't live without it?"

"I don't know how to cultivate," answered Catherine; "it is Esther you are thinking about."

Having announced this self-evident fact, Catherine walked off and left him to quiet Esther's alarms as he could. As she went she heard him turn to Esther and repeat his prayer that she should be gentle with him and give his sermon a word of praise.

"How can I stop to think whether it is good or not," said Esther, "when I hear you telling all our secrets to our whole visiting list? I could think of nothing but myself, and how I could get away."

"And whose secrets can I tell if not our own?" asked Hazard triumphant.

While he was with her Esther was peaceful and happy, but no sooner had he gone than her terrors began again.

"He will find me out, Catherine, and it will break my heart," she said. "I never knew I had a jealous temper. I am horribly narrow-minded. I'm not fit for him, and I knew it when he asked me. He will hate me when he finds what a wife he has got."

Catherine, who positively declined to recognize Mr. Hazard's superiority of mind over Esther, took this with unshaken fortitude. "If you can stand it, I guess he can," she remarked curtly. "Where do you expect the poor man to get a wife, if all of us say we are not fit for him?"

This view of the case amused Esther for a time, but not for long--the matter was too serious for any treatment but a joke, and joking made it more serious still. Try which way she would there was no escape from her anxiety. Hazard, who had foreseen some trouble from her old associations with loose religious opinion, had taken it for granted, with his usual self-confidence, that from the moment she came within the reach of his faith and took a place by his side she would find no difficulties that he could not easily overcome. "Love is the great magnet of life, and Religion," he said "is Love." Nothing could be simpler than his plan, as he explained to her. She had but to trust herself to him and all was sure to go well. So long as he was with her and could gently thrust aside every idea but that of their own happiness, all went as well as he promised; but unluckily for his plan, Esther had all her life been used to act for herself and to order others rather than take orders of any sort. The more confidently Hazard told her to leave every thing to him, the less it occurred to her to do so. She could no more allow him to come into her life and take charge of her thoughts than to go down into her kitchen and take charge of her cook. He might reason with her by the hour, and quite convince her that nothing was of the least consequence provided it were left entirely in his hands, but the moment he was out of sight she forgot that he was to be the keeper of her conscience, and, without a thought of her dependence, she resumed the charge of her own affairs.

Her first idea was to learn something of theology, in the hope of settling her foolish and ignorant doubts as to her fitness for her new position. No sooner did the thought occur to her than she set to work, like a young divinity student, to fit herself for her new calling. Her father's library contained a number of theological books, but these were of a kind that suited Mr. Dudley's way of thinking rather than that of the early fathers. As Esther knew nothing at all about the subject, except what she had gathered from listening to conversation, one book seemed to her as good as another, provided it dealt with the matter that interested her; but when Hazard came in and found her seated on a sofa, with a pile of these works about her, his hair rose on end, and he was forced gently to take them away under the promise of bringing her others of a more correct kind. These in their turn seemed to her not quite clear, and she asked for others still. He found himself, without warning, on the brink of a theological abyss. Unwilling to worry him; eager to accept whatever he told her he believed, but in despair at each failure to understand what it was, Esther became more and more uncomfortable and terrified.

"What would you do, Catherine, if you were in my place?" she asked.

"Let it alone!" said Catherine. "You didn't ask him to marry you. If he wants you, it's his business to suit himself to you."

"But I must go to his church," said Esther, "and sit at his communion."

"How many people at his church could tell you what they believe?" asked Catherine. "Your religion is just as good as theirs as long as you don't know what it is."

"One learns theology fast when one is engaged to be married," said Esther with a repentant face.

She was already sorry that she had tried to learn any thing about the subject, for she already knew too much, and yet a terrible fascination impelled her to read on about the nature of the trinity and the authority of tradition, until she lost patience with her own stupidity and burned to know what other people had to say on such matters. It occurred to her that she should like to have a quiet talk with George Strong.

Meanwhile Mrs. Murray, panic-stricken at learning the engagement, had sent at once for George. The messenger reached him on Sunday evening, a few hours after Esther told her aunt. Mystified by the urgent tone of Mrs. Murray's note, Strong came up at once, and found his uncle and aunt alone, after dinner, in their parlor, where Mr. Murray was quietly smoking a cigar, while his wife was holding a book in her hand and looking hard into the fire.

"George!" said his aunt solemnly; "do you know the mischief you and your friends have done?"

Strong stared. "You don't mean to tell me that Catherine has run off with Wharton?" said he. "She can't have done it, for I left Wharton not fifteen minutes ago at the club."

"No, not that! thank Heaven! Though if she hadn't more head than ever he had, that French wife of his might have given her more unhappiness than he is worth. No, it's not that! Catherine is the only sensible creature in the family."

Strong glared into the fire for a moment with a troubled air, and then looked at his aunt again. "No!" said he. "Esther hasn't joined the church. It can't be!"

"Yes!" said Mrs. Murray grimly.

"Caramba!" growled Strong, with a profusion of Spanish gutturals. Then after a moment's reflection, he added: "Poor child! Why should I care?"

"You irritate me more than your uncle does," broke out Mrs. Murray, at last losing patience. "Do you think I should be so distressed if Esther had only joined the church? I should like nothing better. What has happened is very different. She is engaged to Mr. Hazard."

Strong broke into a laugh, and Mr. Murray, with a quiet chuckle of humor, took his cigar out of his mouth to say:

"Let me explain this little matter to you, George! What troubles your aunt is not so much that Esther has joined the church as that she fears the church has joined Esther."

"The church has struck it rich this time;" remarked Strong without a sign of his first alarm. "Now we'll see what they'll make of her."

"The matter is too serious for joking;" said Mrs. Murray. "Either Esther will be unhappy for life, or Mr. Hazard will leave his church, or they will both be miserable whatever they do. I think you are bound to prevent it, since you are the one most to blame for getting them into it."

"I don't want to prevent it;" replied Strong. "It's a case of survival for the fittest. If Hazard can manage to convert Esther, let him do it. If not, let her take him in charge and convert him if she can. I'll not interfere."

"That is just the remark I had the honor to make to your aunt as you came in," said Mr. Murray. "Yesterday I wanted to stop it. To-day I want to leave it alone. They are both of them old enough to manage their own case. It has risen now to the dignity of a great cause, and I will be the devil's advocate."

"You are both of you intolerable," said Mrs. Murray, impatiently. "You talk about the happiness of Esther's life as though it were a game of poker. Tell me, George! what kind of a man is Mr. Hazard at heart?"

"Hazard is a priest at heart," replied Strong. "He has the qualities and faults of his class. I understand how this thing happened. He sees nothing good in the world that he does not instantly covet for the glory of God and the church, and just a bit for his own pleasure. He saw Esther; she struck him as something out of his line, for he is used to young women who work altar-cloths; he found that Wharton and I liked her; he thought that such material was too good for heathen like us; so he fell in love with her himself and means to turn her into a candlestick of the church. I don't mind. Let him try! He has done what he liked with us all his life. I have worked like a dog for him and his church because he was my friend. Now he will see whether he has met his match. I double you up all round on Esther."

"You men are simply brutal!" said his aunt. "Esther will be an unhappy woman all her life, whether she marries him or not, and you sit there and will not raise a finger to help her."

"Let him convert her, I say;" repeated Strong. "What is your objection to that, aunt Sarah?"

"My objection is that the whole family is only a drove of mules," said Mrs. Murray. "Poor Mr. Hazard does not know what he is undertaking."

"Is Esther very much in love?" asked Strong.

"You know her well enough to know that she would never have accepted him if she were not;" replied Mrs. Murray. "He has hunted her down when she was unhappy, and he is going to make her more unhappy still."

"I guess you're right," said Strong, seriously. "The struggle is going to tear both their poor little hearts out; but what can we do about it? None of us are to blame."

"Ah, George!" exclaimed his aunt. "You are the one most to blame. You should have married Esther yourself, and you had not wit enough to see that while you went dancing round the world, as though such women were plenty as your old fossil toads, the only woman you will ever meet who could have made you happy, was slipping through your fingers, and you hadn't the strength to hold her."

"I own it, aunt Sarah!" said George, and this time he spoke seriously enough to satisfy her. "If I could have fallen in love with Esther and she with me, I believe it would have been better for both of us than that she should marry a high-church parson and I go on digging bones; but some things are too obvious. You can't get a spark without some break in your conductor. I was ready enough to fall in love with Esther, but one can't do that kind of thing in cold blood."

"Well," said Mrs. Murray with a sigh. "You have lost her now, and Mr. Hazard will lose her too. You and he and all your friends are a sort of clever children. We are always expecting you to do something worth doing, and it never comes. You are a sort of water-color, worsted-work, bric-à-brac, washed-out geniuses, just big enough and strong enough to want to do something and never carry it through. I am heartily tired of the whole lot of you, and now I must set to work and get these two girls out of your hands."

"Do you mean to break up this engagement?" asked Strong, who was used to his aunt's criticisms and never answered them.

"The engagement will break itself up," replied his aunt. "It will have to be kept private for a few weeks on account of her father's death and her mourning, and you will see that it never will be announced. If I can, I shall certainly do all in my power to break it up."

"You will?" said Strong. "Well! I mean to do just the contrary. If Esther wants Hazard she shall have him, if I can help her. Why not? Hazard is a good fellow, and will make her a good husband. I have no fault to find with him except that he poaches outside his preserves. He has poached this time to some purpose, but if the parish can stand it, I can."

"The parish cannot stand it," said Mrs. Murray. "They are saying very ugly things already about Esther."

"Then it will not hurt my feelings to see Hazard snub his congregation," replied Strong angrily.

The family conclave ended here, and all parties henceforward fixed their eyes intently on the drama. Mrs. Murray waited with a woman's instinct for her moment to come. Strong tried to counteract her influence by bungling efforts to make the lovers' path smooth. Catherine was a sort of cushion against which all the billiard balls of the game knocked themselves in succession, leaving her cool and elastic temper undisturbed. Three more days passed without throwing much new light on the disputed question whether the engagement could last, except that Esther seemed clearly more anxious and restless. Mr. Hazard was with her several hours every day and watched over her with extreme vigilance. Mrs. Murray took her to drive every afternoon and not a glance of Esther's eyes escaped scrutiny. Strong stopped once or twice at the house but had no chance to interfere until on Thursday morning, his aunt told him that Esther was rapidly getting into a state of mind that must soon bring on a crisis.

"She cannot possibly make it do," said Mrs. Murray. "She is worrying herself to death already. Mr. Hazard ought to see that she can't marry him."

"She will marry him," answered Strong coolly. "Three women out of four think they can't marry a man at first, but when they come to parting with him, they learn better."

"He is passably selfish, your Mr. Hazard. If he thought a little more of his parish, he would not want to put over them a woman like Esther who has not a quality suited to the place."

"Her qualities are excellent," contradicted Strong. "Once in harness she will be kind and gentle, a little tender-mouthed perhaps, and apt to shy at first, but thorough-bred. He is quite right to take her if he can get her, and what does his parish expect to do about it?"

"The first thing they will do about it will be to make Esther miserable. They have begun to gossip already. A young man, even though he is a clergyman, can't be seen always in company with a pretty woman, without exciting remark. Only yesterday I was asked point-blank whether my niece was engaged to Mr. Hazard."

"What did you say?"

"I told a lie of course, all the meaner because it was an equivocation. I said that Mr. Hazard had not honored me with any communication on the subject. I score up this first falsehood to his account."

"If you lie no better than that, Aunt Sarah, Hazard's conscience won't trouble him much. When is the engagement to be out?"

"Very soon, at this rate. I thought that Esther, in common decency, could not announce it for a week or two, but every one already suspects it, and she will have to make it public within another week if she means to do so at all. Now that she is her own mistress and lives by herself, she can't have men so much about the house as she might if her father were living."

"Do you seriously think she will break it off?" asked Strong incredulously.

"I feel surer than ever," answered his aunt. "The criticism is going to be bitter, and the longer Esther waits, the more sharply people will talk. I should not wonder if it ended by driving Mr. Hazard out of the parish. He is not strong enough to shock them much. Then Esther is growing more and more nervous every day because the more she tries to understand, the less she succeeds. Yesterday, when I took her to drive, she was in tears about the atonement, and to-day I suppose she will have gone to bed with a sick headache on account of the Athanasian creed."

"I must talk with her," said Strong. "I think I can make some of those things easier for her."

"You? I thought you laughed at them all."

"So I do, but not because they can't be understood. The trouble is that I think I do understand them. Mystery for mystery science beats religion hollow. I can't open my mouth in my lecture-room without repeating ten times as many unintelligible formulas as ever Hazard is forced to do in his church. I can quiet her mind on that score."

"You had better leave it alone, George! Why should you meddle? Let Mr. Hazard fight his own battles!"

George refused to take this wise advice. He was a tender-hearted fellow and could not bear to see his friends suffer. If Esther loved Hazard and wanted to marry him, she should do so though every dogma of the church stood in her way, and every old woman in the parish shrieked sacrilege. Strong had no respect for the church and no wish to save it trouble, but he believed that Hazard was going blindly under Esther's influence which would sooner or later end by drawing him away from his old forms of belief; and as this was entirely Hazard's affair, if he chose to risk the danger, Strong chose to help him.

"Why not?" said Strong to himself. "It is not a question of earning a living. Both of them are well enough off. If he can turn her into a light of his church, let him do it. If she ends in dragging him out of the church, so much the better. She can't get a better husband, and he can't find a better wife. I mean to see this thing through."

So George strolled round to Esther's house after this interview with his aunt, thinking that he might be able to do good. Being at home there, he went up-stairs unannounced, and finding no one in the library he climbed to the studio, where, on opening the door, he saw Catherine sitting before the fire, looking very much bored. Poor Catherine found it hard to keep up with life in New York. Fresh from the prairie, she had been first saturated with art, and was now plunged in a bottomless ocean of theology. She was glad to see Strong who had in her eyes the advantage of being more practical than the rest of her friends.

"Catherine, how are your sheep?"

"I am glad you have come to look after them," answered Catherine. "I won't be watch-dog much longer. They are too troublesome."

"What mischief are they doing now?"

"Every thing they can think of to worry me. Esther won't eat and can't sleep, and Mr. Hazard won't sleep and can't eat. She tries not to worry him, so she comes down on me with questions and books enough to frighten a professor. Do tell me what to say!"

"Where are your questions?" asked Strong.

"This morning she wanted to know what I thought of apostolic succession. She said she was reading some book by a Dr. Newman. What is apostolic succession?"

"A curious disease, quite common among the poorer classes of Sandwich Islanders," replied Strong. "No one has ever found a cure for it."

"Don't laugh at us! We do nothing but cry now, except when Mr. Hazard is here, and then we pretend to be happy. When Esther cries, I cry too. That makes her laugh. It's our only joke, and we used to have so many."

"Don't you think it rather a moist joke?" asked Strong. "I take mine dry."

"I can't tell what she will think a joke," replied Catherine. "She asked me to-day what was my idea of heaven, and I said it was reading novels in church. She seemed to think this a rich bonanza of a joke, and laughed herself into hysterics, but I was as serious as Mr. Wharton's apostles."

"You are never so funny as when you are serious. Never be so any more! Why don't you get her to paint?"

"She won't. I'm rather glad of it, for if she did, I should have to sit for melancholy, or an angel, or something I'm not fitted for by education."

"What shall we do about it?" asked Strong. "Things can't go on in this way."

"I think the engagement had better come out," said Catherine. "The longer it is kept private, the more she will doubt whether she ought to marry a clergyman. What do you think about marrying clergymen? Wouldn't it almost be better to marry a painter, or even a professor?"

"That would be playing it too low down," replied Strong gravely. "I would recommend you to look out for a swell. What has become of your admirer, Mr. Van Dam?"

"Gone!" said Catherine sadly. "Mr. Wharton and he went off together. There is something about me that scares them all off the ranche."

While they were thus improving each other's minds, the door opened and Esther entered. She was pale and her face had no longer the bright look which Wharton had thought so characteristic, but there was no other sign of trouble about her, and she welcomed her cousin as pleasantly as ever, so that he could hardly believe in the stories he had just heard of her distress.

"Good day, Cousin George," she said. "Thank you for coming to cheer up this poor girl. She needs it. Do take her out and amuse her."

"Come out yourself, Esther. You need it more than she does."

"Aunt Sarah is coming at two o'clock to take me to drive," said Esther. "Catherine hates driving unless she drives herself."

"I thought you hated it too."

"Oh, I hate nothing now," replied Esther, with a little of her old laugh. "I am learning to like every thing."

"Is that in the marriage service?" asked Strong. "Do you have to begin so high up? Couldn't you start easy, and like a few things first,--me for instance--and let the rest wait?"

"No," she said, "you are to come last. Honestly, I am more afraid of you than of all the rest of the world. If you knew what a bug-bear you are to me, you would be afraid of yourself. Don't make fun of me any more! I know I am horribly funny, but you must take me in earnest. Poor papa's last words to me were: 'Laugh and you're safe!'--but if I laugh now, I'm lost."

"This is the first time I ever met any one honest enough to acknowledge that marriage was so sad a thing. Catherine, if I ask you to marry me, will you turn serious?"

"She will turn serious enough if she does it," said Esther. "You would stay with her a week, and then tell her that you were obliged to see a friend in Japan. She would never see you again, but the newspapers would tell her that you had set out to look for bones in the Milky Way."

"What you say sounds to me as though it had a grain of truth," replied Strong. "That reminds me that I got a letter telling me of a lot of new bones only yesterday, but I must leave them underground till the summer; if by that time I can do any thing for you in Oregon, let me know."

"I want you very much to do something for me now," said Esther. "Will you try to be serious a moment for my sake?"

"I don't know," said Strong. "You ask too much all at once. Where are you coming out?"

"Will you answer me a question? Say yes or no!"

"That depends on the question, Mistress Esther! Old birds are not to be caught in old traps. State your question, as we say in the lecture-room."

"Is religion true?"

"I thought so! Cousin Esther, I love you as much as I love any one in this cold world, but I can't answer your question. I can tell you all about the mound-builders or cave-men, so far as known, but I could not tell you the difference between the bones of a saint and those of a heathen. Ask me something easier! Ask me whether science is true!"

"Is science true?"

"No!"

"Then why do you believe in it?"

"I don't believe in it."

"Then why do you belong to it?"

"Because I want to help in making it truer. Now, Esther, just take this matter coolly! You are bothered, I suppose, by the idea that you can't possibly believe in miracles and mysteries, and therefore can't make a good wife for Hazard. You might just as well make yourself unhappy by doubting whether you would make a good wife to me because you can't believe the first axiom in Euclid. There is no science which does not begin by requiring you to believe the incredible."

"Are you telling me the truth?"

"I tell you the solemn truth that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. The wife of my mathematical colleague, to my knowledge, never even stopped to ask whether it was true that a point had neither length, breadth nor thickness."

Esther pondered a few moments, looking into the fire with a grave face. Then she went on:

"You are not talking honestly. Why should I dare tell you that your old fossil bones are a humbug, when I would not for the world talk so to Mr. Hazard? You don't care whether geology is true or not."

"Well, no, not much!" said Strong. "I should care more if you told me that my best Japanese lacquer was modern."

"Besides," said Esther; "you have not answered my question. I want to know what you think, and you won't tell me. Oh! don't let me lose faith in you too! I know your opinions. You think the whole church a piece of superstition. I've heard you say so, and I want you to tell me why. You're my cousin and I've a right to your help, but you won't give it."

"You are a desperate little tyrant," said Strong laughing. "You always were. Do you remember how we fought when we were children because you would have your own way? I used to give in then, but I am old now, and obstinate."

"I know that you always ended by making me go your way," replied Esther; "but that was because I never cared much where I went. Now it is a matter of life and death. I can't move a step, or even let our engagement be announced until I feel sure that I shall not be a load on his neck. Do you think I should hesitate to break it off, even if I broke my heart with it, if I thought it was going to bring trouble on him?"

Against this assault jesting was out of the question. Strong was forced out of this line of defense and found himself in an awkward position. Esther, not outwardly excited, but leaning her chin on her hand, and gazing into the fire with a look of set will, had the calmness of despair. Strong was staggered and hesitated.

"The trouble with you is that you start wrong," said he at length. "You need what is called faith, and are trying to get it by reason. It can't be done. Faith is a state of mind, like love or jealousy. You can never reason yourself into it."

"So Mr. Hazard says," rejoined Esther. "He tells me to wait and it will come, but he wants me to go on just as though I were certain of its coming. I can't wait. If it does not come quickly, I must do something desperate. Now tell me what you would do to get faith if the happiness of your whole life hung on it."

Strong rose uneasily from his seat and stood up before the fire. He began to think himself rash for venturing into this arena. He had always believed his cousin to be stronger than Hazard, because Hazard was a clergyman, but he had not hitherto thought her stronger than himself, and he now looked at her carefully, wondering whether he could have managed her. Never in his life had he felt so nearly in love with her as now, under the temptation to try whether she could be made to give up her will to his. This feeling was the stronger because even in his own eyes his conduct so far seemed a little cowardly and ridiculous. He pulled himself up sharply, and, seeing nothing else to be done, he took up the weapons of the church and asserted the tone of authority.

"Every one who marries," he said, "goes it blind, more or less. If you have faith enough in Hazard to believe in him, you have faith enough to accept his church. Faith means submission. Submit!"

"I want to submit," cried Esther piteously, rising in her turn and speaking in accents of real distress and passion. "Why can't some of you make me? For a few minutes at a time I think it done, and then I suddenly find myself more defiant than ever. I want nothing of the church! Why should it trouble me? Why should I submit to it? Why can't it leave me alone?"

"What you want is the Roman church," continued Strong mercilessly. "They know how to deal with pride of will. Millions of men and women have gone through the same struggle, and the church tells them to fix their eyes on a symbol of faith, and if their eyes wander, scourges them for it." As he talked, he took up the little carved ivory crucifix which stood on the mantel-piece among other bits of studio furniture, and holding it up before her, said: "There! How many people do you think, have come to this Christ of yours that has no meaning to you, and in their struggle with doubt, have pressed it against their hearts till it drew blood? Ask it!"

"Is that all?" said Esther, taking the crucifix from his hand and looking curiously at it. Then she silently put it against her heart and pressed it with more and more force, until Strong caught her hand in alarm and pulled it away.

"Come!" said he coolly, as he forced her to give up the crucifix; "my little bluff has failed. I throw up the hand. You must play it out with Hazard."

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 18:2 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 6

 

 

Esther's regrets on quitting her work at the church lasted not so long as Catherine's, though they were more serious. She had already begun to feel alarmed about her father's condition, and nothing but his positive order had induced her to leave him even for a few hours every day. She had seen that his strength steadily failed; he suffered paroxysms of pain; he lost consciousness more than once; and although he insisted to the last on acting as though he were well, his weakness increased until he could no longer sit out a game of whist, but was forced to lie on the sofa in his library where he liked to see every visitor who came to the house. He required that every thing about him should go on as usual, and not only made Esther go regularly to her work, but took keen interest in hearing from her and Catherine all that was said and done at the church. He delighted in laughing at Catherine about her romantic relations with Wharton, but he made no jokes about Mr. Hazard. He thought from the first that this intimacy might be a serious matter for Esther, but he would not again interfere in her affairs, and feared making things worse by noticing them. He watched Hazard sharply, until Esther had the uncomfortable sense of feeling that her father's eyes were never far away from the clergyman when he came to the house. She knew, or fancied she knew, every thought in her father's mind, and his silence embarrassed her more than criticism could have done. She asked herself in vain why her father, disliking the clergy as she knew he did, should suddenly admit a clergyman into his intimacy. In truth, Mr. Dudley looked on himself as no longer having a right to speak; his feelings and prejudices were to be kept out of her life; but he could watch, and the longer he watched, the more intense his interest became.

When Esther and Catherine returned from the church with their account of Wharton's wife, their first act was to tell the story to Mr. Dudley, who lay on his sofa and listened with keen interest.

"I suppose you meant to come back for my revolver," said he to Catherine, whose little explosions of courage always amused him. "I think I could almost have crawled round to see you take a shot at your French friend as she started for you."

"Oh, no!" said Catherine modestly. "I would have given the revolver to Mr. Wharton."

"Don't do it, Catherine! Wharton could not hit the church door with it. Suppose he had shot you instead of the other woman!"

"Of course!" said Catherine reflectively. "He wouldn't know how to use a revolver, would he? I suppose I ought to teach him."

"Better not!" said Mr. Dudley. "Keep him under. You may have to talk with him one of these days, after you have settled your little misunderstanding with his wife."

Catherine took chaff with such gravity that even Mr. Dudley could not always make out whether she was in jest or earnest. She had a quaint, serious way of accepting any sort of challenge and going it better, as Strong expressed it, which left her assailants wholly in the dark. Mr. Dudley wanted to stop any romantic nonsense between her and Wharton, but could never quite make out whether she cared for him or not. Esther thought not.

That evening they all hoped that Hazard would come in to tell them what other scenes had occurred, and, under this little excitement, Mr. Dudley felt strong enough to appear like himself, although he dared not rise from his sofa. At about eight o'clock they were gratified. Mr. Hazard appeared, and was received with such cordiality and intimacy as went far to make him feel himself a member of the family.

"Thank you," said Mr. Dudley. "We have done nothing but run to the watch-tower to see if you were coming. Tell us quickly the ghastly news. We are prepared for the worst."

"If you read Turgenieff," replied Hazard, "you can imagine the kind of experience we have had. I feel as though I had stolen a chapter from one of his stories."

"No matter! Spoil it promptly! We never read any thing."

"May I have first a cup of tea, Miss Dudley? Thank you! That woman has left a taste on my palate that all the tea in China will never wash off. Where shall I begin?"

"Where we left off," said Esther. "We left Mr. Wharton in the church at eleven o'clock, and the woman marching up and down outside."

"At noon I found her there, and knew her at once, though it is ten years since I last saw her. She is a person whom one does not forget. I asked her what she wanted. It seemed that Wharton, in his confusion, had told her to come to his studio without saying where it was; and she was waiting for him to come out again. I gave her the address and sent her away. Then I went up to Wharton whom I found in a strange state of mind; he seemed dazed and showed no interest in the affair. He would not talk of his wife at all until I forced him. At length, after a struggle, as he said that Miss Dudley had told him to go to her uncle, Mr. Murray, I got him into a carriage and we drove to Mr. Murray's office. The upshot was that Mr. Murray and I took the matter into our hands and decided to meet the woman ourselves in his company. At the hour fixed, we went, all three of us, to the studio.

"It needed at least three of us to deal with that one woman. When I saw her in Paris she was still young and handsome, with superb eyes and a kind of eastern tread. You could imagine her, when she did not speak, as Semiramis, Medea, Clytemnestra! Except that when you saw a little more of her, you felt that she was only a heroine of a cheap theater. Wharton could not have been fascinated by her, if, at that time of his life, he had ever known a refined woman or mixed at all in the world; but she certainly had a gypsy charm, and seemed to carry oceans of Sahara and caravans of camels about with her. When she was in one of her furies, it was an echo of the whole Greek drama. This, you must recollect, was ten years ago, and even then she was spoiled by being coarse and melodramatic, but now she is a horror. She suggests nothing but the penitentiary. When she saw that there were three of us, she flew into a whirlwind of passion, and screamed French that I was glad to find I could not wholly understand. Her dialect must come from the worst class of Parisian thieves. I should have been glad to understand less than I did. Every now and then she interrupted this Billingsgate, and seemed to think that her dignity required a loftier style, and she poured out on us whole pages of cheap melodrama. She began by flinging her fur cap and cloak on the floor and striking a stage attitude. She wanted to know who we were; by what right did we mix ourselves in this affair and come between a villain and his victim! Then she turned on Wharton and began gesticulating and throwing herself into contortions like a Maenad, repeating again and again that he was her husband, an 'infâme,' a 'lâche,' and that she would take his life if she were not given her rights. She drew herself up in all her height, and growled in her deepest voice: 'Je vais t'écr-r-r-raser!' Then she changed her tone and sobbed violently that on second thoughts she preferred to kill herself, and finally tore a small stage dagger from her breast and proposed to kill us all and herself too."

"How many did she manage in the end?" asked Mr. Dudley.

"How did Mr. Wharton bear it?" asked Esther.

"Wharton stood it very well," replied Hazard. "He was sitting near her, and now and then she made a rush at him as though she really meant to strike him. He never moved, or spoke, or took his eyes away from her. I think he was overcome by association; he thought himself back in Paris ten years ago."

"Doubtless this excellent woman has faults, owing to a defective education," said Mr. Dudley with his usual dry, half-smile. "We must make allowances for them. I am more curious to know whether she got the better of my astute brother-in-law."

"Mr. Murray took an unfair advantage over her," said Hazard. "He had taken the precaution to post a police officer in the next room, and after the woman had exhausted herself, and I think too had worn off the effects of the brandy she reeked with, he told her that she would go instantly to the police station if she did not behave herself. I think her imagination must have taught her that an American police station might be something very terrible, for in a few minutes she quieted down and was only eager for money."

"I suppose Murray means to terrify this poor creature into a sacrifice of her rights?" said Mr. Dudley.

"Wharton will have to settle an annuity on her, in order to get her back to Europe and keep her there. In return, she has got to consent to a divorce. Mr. Murray insists on this as his first condition. Wharton began to say that she was his wife, and that he was bound to take care of her, until at last Mr. Murray told him to take himself off or he would have no more to do with the case. So the woman, on receiving some money on the spot, consents to deal with Mr. Murray directly, on his terms, and Wharton leaves town till the papers are drawn up and the woman packed off. He has had a shock which will prevent his working for some time."

"He may not feel like painting saints," said Mr. Dudley, "but I should think he was in good form for painting sinners. Is there no room for a Jezebel in your portrait gallery?"

Mr. Dudley was too weak for late hours and Hazard went away early. As he went he said he would come again to tell them the next chapter, if there was one.

"Be quick about it!" said Mr. Dudley. "I am like the Sultan who cut off his wives' heads because they would not tell him stories fast enough. It is not convenient for me to wait."

To Esther this evening was the last when the stars shone bright and clear. The next morning her glimpse of blue sky had vanished and the rigor of the storm began.

She was waked by the news that in the night her father had been seized by another paroxysm, and that although better, he was excessively weak. He had forbidden his attendants to call her, on the cool calculation that he should probably pull through this attack, and that she would need all her strength for the next. When Esther came down to his room, she found him in a state of complete prostration, so that his doctors had forbidden him to speak or even to listen. They no longer talked with him, but gave their orders to her, and she took charge of the sick-room at once with all its responsibilities and fatigues. After a consultation of very few moments, the physicians told her plainly that there was no hope; her father might linger a short time, but any sudden emotion would kill him on the spot.

During the day he rallied a little and in the evening was stronger. Esther, who had been all day in his room, rested till midnight and then took her regular watch by his side. She knew that there was no hope and that her father himself was only anxious for the end, yet to see him suffer and slowly fade out was terrible. At such moments, tears are forbidden. Esther had been told that she must not give way to agitation, under the risk of killing her father, who lay dozing, half-conscious, with his face turned towards her. Whenever his eyes opened they rested on hers. In the dim light she watched his motions, and it seemed to her that he was also watching hers. She wondered whether he could feel stronger because she was near him. Was he afraid? He, who had never to her knowledge shrunk from any danger, and who in the army had shown reckless indifference even when he supposed his wounds to be mortal, was now watching her as though he feared to have her leave his side. In his extreme weakness, unable to lift his head, his mind evidently beginning to wander, perhaps he felt the need of her companionship, and dreaded solitude and death as she did. For half the night she pondered over this weakening of the will in the face of omnipotence crushing out the last spark of life, and was doubly startled when, the nurse coming to relieve her at six o'clock, she leaned over to kiss her father's forehead and found him looking at her in his old humorous way, while, in a low whisper, speaking slowly, as though he would not yield to the enemy that clutched his heart, he said:

"It's not so bad, Esther, when you come to it."

The tears started into Esther's eyes. It was only with an effort more violent than she had thought was in her power, that she forced herself to smile. Now that she had come to it, she thought it was very bad; worse than any thing she had ever imagined; she wanted to escape, to run away, to get out of life itself, rather than suffer such pain, such terror, such misery of helplessness; but after an instant's pause, her father whispered again, though his voice died away in weakness:

"Laugh, Esther, when you're in trouble! Say something droll! then you're safe. I saw the whole regiment laugh under fire at Gettysburg."

This was more than she could bear, and she had to hurry out of the room. She had fancied him yielding to fear and finding courage in her companionship. Suddenly she became aware that, with death's hand on his throat and a brain reeling in exhaustion, he was trying to teach her how to meet what life had to bring. The lesson was one she could not easily forget.

So she went to her bed, in the cold, gray dawn of a winter's day, with the tears still running down her face. When she woke again the day was already waning, a dripping, wasting thaw, when smoking and soot-defiled snow added sadness to the sad sky. Esther, on opening her eyes, saw Catherine sitting quietly before the fire, reading, or pretending to read. She was keeping guard lest Esther should be disturbed.

"He is no worse," she said, when Esther raised her head. "I was at his door five minutes ago. Mrs. Murray is there and so is the doctor. You are not wanted and they sent word that you were not to be disturbed."

Esther was glad to lie still a few minutes and collect her strength. It was pleasant to look at Catherine, the healthiest and most cheery of girls, after having under one's eyes a long night of terror.

"Professor Strong has been here this morning and I saw him," ran on Catherine. "He sent for me because he would not have you disturbed. He got back from St. Louis last night, and will come round here again this afternoon. Mr. Hazard has been here, too, and says he shall stop again in the evening."

This report required no answer. Esther felt the stronger for knowing that her friends were at her side, and that she could count on their help. Catherine ran on in the same vein.

"Mr. Hazard says that Mr. Wharton has left town and will not return until Mr. Murray sends for him. I think he might have left some message for me, to ask me to be true to him or something, but Mr. Hazard says he just went off to Boston without a word to any body. I have more than half a mind to desert him and go back to Colorado."

"If you leave me now, Catherine--"

"Oh! I don't mean to leave you, but I must earn my living. Let me take my watch with your father to-night! You will think you have struck a professional."

Esther refused, but Catherine did rather more than her share of work notwithstanding, and more than once Mr. Dudley, opening his eyes, found her at the head of his bed and greeted her with a faint smile.

He passed the day without much sign of change. Esther was repeatedly called from his side to see persons whom she could not send away. Her aunt was with her till night. Strong came in and sat with her while she tried to dine. So long as day-light lasted she felt no sense of loneliness or desertion, and her courage remained fairly steady; but when she had sent home her aunt and cousin in order to begin her watch earlier than the previous night, her fears returned, her heart sank, and she begged Catherine to stay with her. The two girls began their watch together. Mr. Dudley seemed pleased to have them with him.

Presently a nurse came with a message that Mr. Hazard was below, and had asked to see Esther for a moment. Mr. Dudley overheard the message, and whispered to his daughter:

"Tell him I am sorry not to see him! Say I am just going out!"

He spoke dreamily, as though half asleep, and Esther, as she leaned over him, trying to catch his words, doubted whether he was quite conscious. He muttered a few more words: "I won't interfere, but the church--." She caught no more, and he dozed off again into silence. After watching him a few moments, Esther beckoned to Catherine to take her chair, and slipped out of the room. She wanted to see Hazard, for, strange as it seemed to her, he had become her most intimate friend, and she could not send him away at such a moment.

She found him at the foot of the stairs, and there they remained standing for a few moments, talking in low tones, by the light of a dim gas-burner.

"I want to help you," he said. "I am used to such scenes and you are not. You need help though you may not ask for it."

She shook her head: "I am a miserable coward," she said; "but we are beyond help now, and I must learn endurance."

"You will over-tax your strength," he urged. "Remember, there is no excitement so great as to stand for the first time in face of eternity, as you are doing."

"I suppose it must be so," she answered. "Every thing seems unreal. I can't even realize my father's illness. Your voice sounds far-off, as though you were calling to me out of the distance and darkness. I hardly know what we are saying, or why we are here. I never felt so before."

"It is over-excitement and fatigue," he replied soothingly. "Do you feel afraid, too?"

"Terribly!" she answered; "I want to run away. But I think death excites almost more than it frightens. My father laughs at it even now."

"I am more concerned about you," continued Hazard. "I can do nothing for him, and you may feel sure that for him all the worst is over. Will you let me stay here on the chance of your needing help?"

"I have already sent away my aunt and George Strong," she said. "Do not feel alarmed about me. Women have more strength than men."

As he left the house, he thought to himself that this woman at least had more strength than most men. He could not forget her pale face, or her dreamy voice and far-off eyes as she had told him her feelings. Most women would have asked him for religious help and consolation. She had gently put his offers aside. She seemed to him like a wandering soul, lost in infinite space, but still floating on, with her quiet air of confidence as though she were a part of nature itself, and felt that all nature moved with her.

"I almost think," said Hazard to himself, "that she could give a lesson in strength to me. It seems rather unnecessary, my offering to give one to her."

Yet Esther felt little like giving strength to any one. As she returned to the sick-room and slipped back into the chair which Catherine quitted, the image of Hazard faded from her mind, and the idea that he could help her, except by his sympathy and friendship, never entered it. After a time her father opened his eyes again and looked at her. She bent over him, and he whispered: "Give me your hand!" She took his hand, and for some time he lay with his eyes open, as though watching her. She could only wonder what was in his mind; perhaps disconnected dreams with intervals of partial consciousness, as now, followed by more vague visions and hurrying phantasms; but she imagined that he had meant not so much to ask for the strength of her hand as to give her die will and courage of his own, and she felt only the wish that he might not doubt her answer to the call. Although he soon dozed again, she did not alter her position, but sat hour after hour, only making way for the nurse who came to give him stimulants which had less and less effect. Her watch ended at two o'clock, when she sent Catherine to bed, but remained herself until the gray dawn had passed and the sun was high in the heavens. She meant her father to know, as long as he knew any thing, that her hand was in his. Not until the doctor assured her that he was no longer conscious, did her long walk into the shadow of death at last end. When Mrs. Murray came, she found Esther still there, her face paler than ever, with dark rings round her eyes, and looking worn and old. As she spoke, her eyes constantly filled with tears, and her nerves were strung up to a tension which made her aunt promptly intervene and insist on her taking rest. Esther obeyed like a worn-out child.

So died William Dudley, and was buried under the ice and snow of winter, while his daughter went on alone to meet the buffets of life. It was in the first days of February that Esther looked about her and seemed to feel that the world had changed. She said to herself that youth was gone. What was she to do with middle-life? At twenty-six to be alone, with no one to interpose as much as a shadow across her path, was a strange sensation; it made her dizzy, as though she were a solitary bird flying through mid-air, and as she looked ahead on her aërial path, could see no tie more human than that which bound her to Andromeda and Orion.

To this moral strain was added the reaction from physical fatigue. For a week or two after her father's death, Esther felt languid, weary and listless. She could not sleep. A voice, a bar of music, the sight of any thing unusual, affected her deeply. She could not get back to her regular interests. First came the funeral with its inevitable depression and fatigue; then came days of vacancy, with no appetite for work and no chance for amusement. She took refuge in trifles, but the needle and scissors are terrible weapons for cutting out and trimming not so much women's dresses as their thoughts. She had never been a reader, and perhaps for that reason her mind had all the more run into regions of fancy and imagination. She caught half an idea in the air, and tossed it for amusement. In these days of unrest she tossed her ideas more rapidly than ever. Most women are more or less mystical by nature, and Esther had a vein of mysticism running through a practical mind.

The only person outside her family whom she saw was Hazard. He was either at the house or in some way near her almost every day. He took charge of the funeral services, and came to make inquiries, to bring messages, or to suggest an occupation, until he was looked upon as one of the household. Once or twice, the week after the funeral, he came in the evening, and asked for a cup of tea. Then Catherine sat by and dozed while Esther talked mysticism with Hazard, who was himself a mystic of the purest water. By this time Esther had learned to look on the physical life, the daily repetition of breakfast and dinner, as the unreal part of existence, and apologized to herself for conceding so much to habit, or put it down to Catherine's account. Her illusions were not serious; perhaps she had for this short instant a flash of truth, and by the light of her father's deathbed, saw life as it is; but, while the mood lasted, nothing seemed real except the imagination, and nothing true but the spiritual. In this atmosphere Hazard was always happy, for he reveled in the voluptuousness of poetry, and found peace in the soul of a dandelion; but to share his subtlest fancies with a woman who could understand and feel them, was to reach a height of poetry that trembled on the verge of realizing heaven. His great eyes shone with the radiance of paradise, and his delicate thin features expressed beatitude, as he discussed with Esther the purity of the soul, the victory of spirit over matter, and the peace of infinite love.

Of her regular occupations Esther kept up only such as were duties, but among them she was true to her little hospital, and went once or twice a week to see the children who clamored for her visits. She went alone, for she liked solitude, and was glad to give Catherine an excuse for escaping to gayer houses and seeing brighter society. About a fortnight after her father's death, one Saturday afternoon when she felt more solitary than ever, and more restless because her long quiet had begun to bring back her strength, she went to the hospital where the children welcomed her with delight. She took her old seat and looked through the yellow eyes of the fire-dogs for inspiration; opened a package and distributed small presents, little Japanese umbrellas, fans, doll's shoes and such small change of popularity; and, at last, obeying the cries for more story, she went on with the history of Princess Lovely in her Cocoanut Island, besieged by whales and defended by talking elephants and monkeys. She had hardly begun when the door opened and again Mr. Hazard entered. This time Esther blushed.

Hazard sat down, and finding that she soon tired of story-telling, he took it up, and gave a chapter of his own which had wild success, so that the children begged for more and more, until five o'clock was past and twilight coming on. As Esther was on foot, Mr. Hazard said he would see her to her door, and they walked away together.

"Do you know that Wharton has come back?" said he as they reached the street. "His affair is settled; the woman sailed yesterday for Europe, and he is to have a divorce. Your uncle has managed it very well."

"Will Mr. Wharton go to work again at the church?" asked Esther.

"He begins at once. He asked me to find out for him whether you would begin with him."

"Did he say whether he wanted me or Catherine?" asked Esther with a laugh.

Hazard laughed in reply. "I think myself he would be satisfied to get Miss Brooke, but you must not underrate your own merits. He wants you both."

"I am afraid he must give us up," said Esther, with a little sigh. "Certainly I can't come, and if he wants Catherine, he will have to come himself and get her; but he will find Catherine not easy to get."

They discussed Wharton and his affairs till they reached Esther's house, and she said: "It is not yet six o'clock. I can give you a cup of tea if you will come in?"

She could not do less than offer him this small hospitality, and yet--Catherine was not at home. They went up to the library, and Esther ordered tea to be brought. She took off her bonnet and cloak, and threw them on a chair. She sat down before the fire, and he stood on the hearth-rug looking at her while she made tea in the twilight. At this moment he was more hopelessly in love than any other Church of England clergyman within the diocese of New York.

"What are then your plans for the future?" he asked, after they had chatted for some time on the subject of Esther's painting. "If you will not return to help us, what do you look forward to doing?"

"I want to take Catherine and go abroad," answered Esther. "If I can get my uncle and aunt to go, we shall start in the spring."

At this announcement Hazard seemed to receive a shock. He turned suddenly to her, his eyes sparkling with passion: "Take me with you! What shall I do without you!" He seized her hand and poured out a torrent of broken protests: "I love you with all my heart and soul! Don't leave me alone in this horrible city! I shall die of disgust if you desert me! You are the only woman I ever loved! Ah! You must love me!"

Esther, trembling, bewildered, carried away by this sudden and violent attack, made at first a feeble effort to withdraw her hand and to gasp a protest, but the traitor within her own breast was worse than the enemy without. For the moment all her wise resolutions were swept away in a wave of tenderness; she seemed to come suddenly on a summer sea, sparkling with hope and sunshine, the dreary sand-banks of her old life vanishing like a dream. She shut her eyes and found herself in his arms. Then in terror at what she had done, she tried again to draw back.

"No, no!" she said rapidly, trying to free herself. "You must not love me! You must let me go!"

"I love you! I adore you! I will never let you go!"

"You must! You do not know what you are doing! Ah! Let me go!"

"Tell me first that you love me!"

"No, no! I am not good enough for you. You must love some one who has her heart in your work."

"Tell me that you love me!" repeated Hazard.

"You do not know me! You must not love me! I shall ruin your life! I shall never satisfy you!"

Hazard caressed her only the more tenderly as he answered with the self-confidence which he put into all he did: "If my calling is so poor a thing that it cannot satisfy both our lives, I will have nothing more to do with it. I have more faith in us both. Promise to love me and I will take care of the rest."

"Ah!" gasped Esther, carried away by her own feelings and the vehemence of his love: "I am getting in deeper and deeper! What shall I do? Do not make me promise!"

"Then I will promise for both!" he said; and poor Esther ceased to struggle.

The same evening at dinner, Mrs. Murray remarked to her husband that she was becoming more and more uneasy about Esther's intimacy with Mr. Hazard.

"People are talking about it," she said. "It is really becoming a matter of public discussion."

"Do you suppose she would accept him?" asked Mr. Murray.

"How can I tell? She would say no, and then very likely do it. She is in the worst sort of a state of mind for an offer of that kind."

"Poor Dudley will rise from his grave," said Mr. Murray.

"He warned me to prevent such a match if I saw it coming," said Mrs. Murray; "but he did nothing to prevent it himself. He thought Esther was going to be very unhappy, and would make some such mistake. I would interfere, but it will only make matters worse. The thing has gone too far now."

"Take her away," said Mr. Murray.

"Where to? If you will go to Europe in the spring, we will take her over and leave her there with Catherine, but she may be married by that time."

"Give her a lecture," said Mr. Murray. "Show her that she is making a stupendous blunder!"

"Better show him!" said Mrs. Murray with a little resentment. "The blunder will be worse for him than for her."

"Explain it to her!" said he. "She has sense. Esther is a good girl, and I won't stand by and see her throw herself away on a church. I will speak to her myself if you don't."

"A nice piece of work you would make of it!" rejoined his wife. "No! If it is to be done, I suppose I must do it, but she will hate me all her life."

"Do it at once, then," said Mr. Murray. "The longer you put it off, the worse she will take it."

"I will talk with her to-morrow," replied Mrs. Murray; and the next day, when she went to take Esther to drive in the afternoon, her niece received her with an embarrassed air and a high color, and said:

"Aunt! I have something to tell you."

"Good heavens!" gasped Mrs. Murray.

"I am engaged to Mr. Hazard."

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 17:58 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 5

 

 

While this ecclesiastical idyl was painting and singing itself in its own way, blind and deaf to the realities of life, this life moved on in its accustomed course undisturbed by idyls. The morning's task was always finished at one o'clock. At that hour, if the weather was fine, Mr. Dudley commonly stopped at the church door to take them away, and the rest of the day was given up to society. Esther and Catherine drove, made calls, dined out, went to balls, to the theater and opera, without interrupting their professional work. Under Mrs. Murray's potent influence, Catherine glided easily into the current of society and became popular without an effort. She soon had admirers. One young man, of an excellent and very old Dutch family, Mr. Rip Van Dam, took a marked fancy for her. Mr. Van Dam knew nothing of her, except that she was very pretty and came from Colorado where she had been brought up to like horses, and could ride almost any thing that would not buck its saddle off. This was quite enough for Mr. Van Dam whose taste for horses was more decided than for literature or art. He took Catherine to drive when the sleighing was good, and was flattered by her enthusiastic admiration of his beautiful pair of fast trotters. His confidence in her became boundless when he found that she could drive them quite as well as he. His success in winning her affections would have been greater if Catherine had not found his charms incessantly counteracted by the society of the older and more intelligent men, whom she never met at balls, but whom she saw every morning at the church, and whose tastes and talk struck her imagination. She liked Mr. Van Dam, but she laughed at him, which proved a thoughtless mind, for neither artists, clergymen nor professors were likely to marry her, as this young man might perhaps have done, under sufficient encouragement. When, towards the first of January, Catherine left Mrs. Murray, in order to stay with Esther, for greater convenience in the church work, Mr. Van Dam's attentions rather fell off. He was afraid of Esther, whom he insisted on regarding as clever, although Esther took much care never to laugh at him, for fear of doing mischief.

Catherine learned to play whist in order to amuse Mr. Dudley. They had small dinners, at which Hazard was sometimes present, and more often Strong, until he was obliged to go West to deliver a course of lectures at St. Louis. In spite of Mr. Dudley's supposed dislike for clergymen, he took kindly to Hazard and made no objection to his becoming a tame cat about the house. To make up a table at whist, Hazard did not refuse to take a hand; and said it was a part of his parochial duty. Mr. Dudley laughed and told him that if he performed the rest of his parochial duties equally ill, the parish should give him a year's leave of absence for purposes of study. Mr. Dudley disliked nothing so much as to be treated like an invalid, or to be serious, and Hazard gratified him by laughing at the doctors. They got on wonderfully well together, to the increasing amazement of Esther.

Card-playing and novel-reading were not the only cases in which Mr. Hazard took a liberal view of his functions. His theology belonged to the high-church school, and in the pulpit he made no compromise with the spirit of concession, but in all ordinary matters of indifference or of innocent pleasure he gave the rein to his instincts, and in regard to art he was so full of its relations with religion that he would admit of no divergence between the two. Art and religion might take great liberties with each other, and both be the better for it, as he thought.

His thirteenth-century ideas led him into a curious experiment which was quite in the thirteenth-century spirit. Catherine's insatiable spirit of coquetry was to blame, although it was not with him that she coquetted. Ready enough to try her youthful powers on most men, she had seemed to recognize by instinct that Mr. Hazard did not belong to her. Yet she could not rest satisfied without putting even him to some useful purpose of her own.

During Hazard's visits to the scaffold, he sometimes took up a pencil and drew. Once he drew a sketch of Wharton in the character of a monk with his brush and pallet in his hands. Catherine asked what connection there was between Mr. Wharton and a monastery.

"None!" replied Mr. Hazard; "but I like to think of church work as done by churchmen. In the old days he would have been a monk and would have painted himself among these figures on the walls."

Esther ventured to criticise Wharton's style; she thought it severe, monotonous, and sometimes strained.

"Wharton's real notion of art," said Hazard, "is a volcano. You may be a volcano at rest, or extinct, or in full eruption, but a volcano of some kind you have got to be. In one of his violent moods he once made me go over to Sicily with him, and dragged me to the top of Etna. It fascinated him, and I thought he meant to jump into it and pull me after him, but at that time he was a sort of used-up volcano himself."

"Then there is really something mysterious about his life?" asked Catherine.

"Only that he made a very unhappy marriage which he dislikes to think about," replied Hazard. "As an artist it did him good, but it ruined his peace and comfort, if he ever had any. He would never have made the mistake, if he had not been more ignorant of the world than any mortal that ever drew breath, but, as I was saying, a volcano was like a rattlesnake to him, and the woman he married was a volcano."

"What has become of her?" asked Esther.

"I have not dared to ask for years. No one seems to know whether she is living or dead."

"Did he leave her?"

"No; she left him. He was to the last fascinated by her, so much so that, after she left him, when I persuaded him to quit Paris, he insisted on going to Avignon and Vaucluse, because Petrarch had been under the same sort of fascination, and Wharton thought himself the only man in the world who could understand Petrarch. If you want to insult him and make him bitterly hate you, tell him that Laura was a married woman with a dozen children."

"Who was Laura?" asked Catherine; "and why should she not have a dozen children?"

"Laura was a beautiful girl with golden hair and a green dress whom Petrarch first saw in a church at Avignon," answered Hazard. "She was painted among the frescoes of the cathedral, as you are being painted now, Miss Brooke; and Petrarch wrote some hundreds of sonnets about her which Wharton undertook to translate, and made me help him. We were both poets then."

"I want to hear those sonnets," said Catherine, quite seriously, as though the likeness between herself and Laura had struck her as the most natural thing in the world. "Can you remember them?"

"I think I could. Don't find fault with me if you dislike the moral. I approve it because, like Petrarch, I am a bit of a churchman, but I don't know what you may think of a lover who begins by putting his mistress on the same footing with his deity and ends by groaning over the time he has thrown away on her."

"Not to her face?" said Esther.

"Worse! He saw her in church and wrote to her face something like this:


        'As sight of God is the eternal life,
    Nor more we ask, nor more to wish we dare,
    So, lady, sight of thee,'


and so on, or words to that effect. Yet after she was dead he said he had wasted his life in loving her. I remember the whole of the sonnet because it cost me two days' labor in the railway between Avignon and Nice. It runs like this:--


    'For my lost life lamenting now I go,
         Which I have placed in loving mortal thing,
         Soaring to no high flight, although the wing
    Had strength to rise and loftier sweep to show.
    Oh! Thou that seest my mean life and low!
         Invisible! Immortal! Heaven's king!
         To this weak, pathless spirit, succor bring,
    And on its earthly faults thy grace bestow!
    That I, who lived in tempest and in fear,
         May die in port and peace; and if it be
    That life was vain, at least let death be dear!
         In these few days that yet remain to me,
    And in death's terrors, may thy hand be near!
         Thou knowest that I have no hope but thee!'


In the Italian this is very great poetry, Miss Brooke, and if you don't think it so in my English, try and see if you can do better."

"Very well," said Catherine, coolly. "I've no doubt we can do it just as well as you and Mr. Wharton. Can't we, Esther?"

"You are impudent enough to make St. Cecilia blush," said Esther, who happened to be wondering whether she might dare to put a little blush into the cheeks of the figure on which she was painting. "You never read a word of Italian in your little life."

"No! But you have!" replied Catherine, as though this were final.

"The libretto of Lucia!" said Esther with scorn.

"No matter!" resumed Catherine. "Bring me the books, Mr. Hazard, and I will translate one of those sonnets if I have to shut up Esther in a dark closet."

"Catherine! Don't make me ridiculous!" said Esther; but Catherine was inspired by an idea, and would not be stopped.

"Bring me the volume now, Mr. Hazard! You shall have your sonnet for Sunday's sermon."

"Don't do it, Mr. Hazard!" exhorted Esther solemnly. "It is one of her Colorado jokes. She does not know what a sonnet is. She thinks it some kind of cattle-punching."

"If I do not give you that sonnet," cried Catherine, "I will give you leave to have me painted as much like an old skeleton as Mr. Wharton chooses."

"Done!" said Hazard, who regarded this as at least one point worth gaining. "You shall have the books. I want to see Wharton's triumph."

"But if I do poetry for you," continued Catherine, "you must do painting for me."

"Very well!" said Hazard. "What shall it be?"

"If I am Laura," said Catherine, "I must have a Petrarch. I want you to put him up here on the wall, looking at me, as he did in the church where he first saw me."

"But what will Wharton and the committee say?" replied Hazard, startled at so monstrous a demand.

"I don't believe Mr. Wharton will object," answered Catherine. "He will be flattered. Don't you see? He is to be Petrarch."

"Oh!" cried Hazard, with a stare. "Now I understand. You want me to paint Wharton as a scriptural character looking across to Miss Dudley's Cecilia."

"You are very slow!" said Catherine. "I think you might have seen it without making me tell you."

To a low-church evangelical parson this idea might have seemed inexpressibly shocking, but there was something in it which, after a moment's reflection, rather pleased Hazard. It was the sort of thing which the Florentines did, and there was hardly an early church in Italy about whose walls did not cling the colors of some such old union of art and friendship in the service of religion. Catherine's figure was already there. Why not place Wharton's by its side and honor the artist who had devoted so large a share of his life to the service of the church, with, it must be confessed, a very moderate share of worldly profit. The longer Hazard thought of it, the less he saw to oppose. His tastes were flattered by the idea of doing something with his own hand that should add to the character and meaning of the building. His imagination was so pleased with the notion that at last he gave his consent:--"Very well, Miss Brooke! I will draw a figure for this next vacant space, and carry it as far as I know how. If Wharton objects he can efface it. But Miss Dudley will have to finish it for me, for I can't paint, and Wharton would certainly stop me if I tried."

Although this pretty bargain which seemed so fair, really threw on Esther the whole burden of writing sonnets and painting portraits for the amusement of Catherine and Mr. Hazard, Catherine begged so hard that she at last consented to do her best, and her consent so much delighted Hazard that he instantly searched his books for a model to work from, and as soon as he found one to answer his purpose, he began with Esther's crayons to draw the cartoon of a large figure which was to preserve under the character of St. Luke the memory of Wharton's features. When Wharton came next to inspect Esther's work, he was told that Mr. Hazard wished to try his hand on designing a figure for the vacant space, and he criticised and corrected it as freely as the rest. For such a task Hazard was almost as competent as Wharton, from the moment the idea was once given, and in this dark corner it mattered little whether a conventional saint were more or less correct.

Meanwhile Catherine carried off a copy of Petrarch, and instantly turned it over to Esther, seeming to think it a matter of course that she should do so trifling a matter as a sonnet with ease. "It won't take you five minutes if you put your mind to it," she said. "You can do any thing you like, and any one could make a few rhymes." Esther, willing to please her, tried, and exhausted her patience on the first three lines. Then Catherine told the story to Mr. Dudley, who was so much amused by her ambition that he gave his active aid, and between them they succeeded in helping Esther to make out a sonnet which Mr. Dudley declared to be quite good enough for Hazard. This done, Esther refused to mix further in the matter, and made Catherine learn her verses by heart. The young woman found this no easy task, but when she thought herself perfect she told Mr. Hazard, as she would have told a schoolmaster, that she was ready with her sonnet.

"I have finished the sonnet, Mr. Hazard," she said one morning in a bashful voice, as though she were again at school.

"Where is it, Miss Brooke?"

Then Catherine, drawing herself up, with her hands behind her, began to recite:


    "Oh, little bird! singing upon your way,
       Or mourning for your pleasant summer-tide,
       Seeing the night and winter at your side,
    The joyous months behind, and sunny day!
    If, as you know your own pathetic lay,
       You knew as well the sorrows that I hide,
       Nestling upon my breast, you would divide
    Its weary woes, and lift their load away.
    I know not that our shares would then be even,
       For she you mourn may yet make glad your sight,
    While against me are banded death and heaven;
       But now the gloom of winter and of night
    With thoughts of sweet and bitter years for leaven,
       Lends to my talk with you a sad delight."


Esther laughed till the tears rolled down her face at the droll effect of these tenderly sentimental verses in Catherine's mouth, but Hazard took it quite seriously and was so much delighted with Catherine's recitation that he insisted on her repeating it to Wharton, who took it even more seriously than he. Hazard knew that the verses were Esther's, and was not disposed to laugh at them. Wharton saw that Catherine came out with new beauties in every rôle she filled, and already wanted to use her as a model for some future frescoed Euterpe. Esther was driven to laugh alone.

Petrarch and Laura are dangerous subjects of study for young people in a church. Wharton and Hazard knew by heart scores of the sonnets, and were fond of repeating verses either in the original or in their own translations, and Esther soon picked up what they let fall, being quick at catching what was thrown to her. She caught verse after verse of Hazard's favorites, and sometimes he could hear her murmuring as she painted:


    "Siccome eterna vita è veder dio,
    Nè più si brama, nè bramar piu lice;"


and at such moments he began to think that he was himself Petrarch, and that to repeat to his Laura the next two verses of the sonnet had become the destiny of his life.

So the weeks ran on until, after a month of hard work, the last days of January saw the two figures nearly completed. When in due time the meaning of St. Luke became evident, Esther and Catherine waited in fear to see how Wharton would take the liberty on which they had so rashly ventured. As the likeness came out more strongly, he stopped one morning before it, when Esther, after finishing her own task, was working on Mr. Hazard's design.

"By our lady of love!" said Wharton, with a start and a laugh; "now I see what mischief you three have been at!"

"The church would not have been complete without it," said Esther timidly.

For several minutes Wharton looked in silence at the St. Cecilia and at the figure which now seemed its companion; then he said, turning away: "I shall not be the first unworthy saint the church has canonized."

Esther drew a long breath of relief; Catherine started up, radiant with delight; and thus it happens that on the walls of St. John's, high above the world of vanities beneath them, Wharton stands, and will stand for ages, gazing at Catherine Brooke.

Now that the two saints were nearly finished, Esther became a little depressed. This church life, like a bit of religious Bohemianism and acted poetry, had amused her so greatly that she found her own small studio dull. She could no longer work there without missing the space, the echoes, the company, and above all, the sense of purpose, which she felt on her scaffolding. She complained to Wharton of her feminine want of motive in life.

"I wish I earned my living," she said. "You don't know what it is to work without an object."

"Much of the best work in the world," said he, "has been done with no motive of gain."

"Men can do so many things that women can't," said she. "Men like to work alone. Women cannot work without company. Do you like solitude?"

"I would like to own a private desert," he answered, "and live alone in the middle of it with lions and tigers to eat intruders."

"You need not go so far," said she. "Take my studio!"

"With you and Miss Brooke in the neighborhood? Never!"

"We will let you alone. In a week you will put your head out of the door and say: 'Please come and play jack-straws with me!'"

Catherine was not pleased at the thought that her usefulness was at an end. She had no longer a part to play unless it were that of duenna to Esther, and for this she was not so well fitted as she might have been, had providence thought proper to make her differently. Indeed, Esther's anxiety to do her duty as duenna to Catherine was becoming so sharp that it threatened to interfere with the pleasure of both. Catherine did her best to give her friend trouble.

"Please rub me all out, Mr. Wharton," said she; "and make Esther begin again. I am sure she will do it better the next time."

Wharton was quite ready to find an excuse for pleasing her. If it was at times a little annoying to have two women in his way whom he could not control as easily as ordinary work-people, he had become so used to the restraint as not to feel it often, and not to regard it much. Esther thought he need not distress himself by thinking that he regarded it at all. Had not Catherine been so anxious to appear as the most docile and obedient of hand-maids besides being the best-tempered of prairie creatures, she would long ago have resented his habit of first petting, then scolding, next ignoring, and again flattering her, as his mood happened to prompt. He was more respectful with Esther, and kept out of her way when he was moody, while she made it a rule never to leave her own place of work unless first invited, but Catherine, who was much by his side, got used to ill-treatment which she bore with angelic meekness. When she found herself left forgotten in a corner, or unanswered when she spoke, or unnoticed when she bade him good-morning, she consoled herself with reflecting that after every rudeness, Wharton's regard for her seemed to rise, and he took her more and more into his confidence with every new brutality.

"Some day he will drag you to the altar by the hair," said Esther; "and tell you that his happiness requires you to be his wife."

"I wish he would try," said Catherine with a little look of humor; "but he has one wife already."

"She mysteriously disappeared," replied Esther. "Some day you will find her skeleton, poor thing!"

"Do you think so?" said Catherine gravely. "How fascinating he is! He makes me shiver!"

When Catherine begged to have every thing begun again, Wharton hesitated. Esther's work was not to his taste, but he was not at all sure that she would do equally well if she tried to imitate his own manner.

"You know I wanted Miss Dudley to put more religious feeling and force into her painting," said he, "but you all united and rode me down."

"I will look like a real angel this time," said Catherine. "Now I know what it is you want."

"I am more than half on her side," went on Wharton. "I am not sure that she is wrong. It all comes to this: is religion a struggle or a joy? To me it is a terrible battle, to be won or lost. I like your green dress with the violets. Whose idea was that?"

"Petrarch's. You know I am Laura. St. Cecilia has the dress which Laura wore in church when Petrarch first saw her."

"No!" said Wharton, after another pause, and long study of the two figures. "Decidedly I will not rub you out; but I mean to touch up Petrarch."

"O! You won't spoil the likeness!"

"Not at all! But if I am going to posterity by your side I want some expression in my face. Petrarch was a man of troubles."

"You promise not to change the idea?"

"I promise to look at you as long as you look at me," said Wharton gloomily.

Meanwhile Esther had a talk with Mr. Hazard which left her more in doubt than ever as to what she had best do. He urged her to begin something new and to do it in a more strenuous spirit.

"You are learning from Wharton," said he. "Why should you stop at the very moment when you have most to gain?"

"I am learning nothing but what I knew before," she answered sadly. "He can teach only grand art and I am fit only for trifles."

"Try one more figure!"

Esther shook her head.

"My Cecilia is a failure," she went on. "Mr. Wharton said it would be, and he was right. I should do no better next time, unless I took his design and carried it out exactly as he orders."

"One's first attempt is always an experiment. Try once more!"

"I should only spoil your church. In the middle of your best sermon your audience would see you look up here and laugh."

"You are challenging compliments."

"What I could do nicely would be to paint squirrels and monkeys playing on vines round the choir, or daisies and buttercups in a row, with one tall daisy in each group of five. That is the way for a woman to make herself useful."

"Be serious!"

"I feel more solemn than Mr. Wharton's great figure of John of Patmos. I am going home to burn my brushes and break my palette. What is the use of trying to go forward when one feels iron bars across one's face?"

"Be reasonable, Miss Dudley! If Wharton is willing to teach, why not be willing to learn? You are not to be the judge. If I think your work good, have I not a right to call on you for it?"

"Oh, yes! You have a right to call, and I have a right to refuse. I will paint no more religious subjects. I have not enough soul. My St. Cecilia looks like a nursery governess playing a waltz for white-cravated saints to dance by." There was a tone of real mortification in Esther's voice as she looked once more at the figure on the wall, and felt how weak it seemed by the side of Wharton's masculine work. Then she suddenly changed her mind and did just what he asked: "If Mr. Wharton will consent, I will begin again, and paint it all over."

A woman could easily have seen that she was torn in opposite directions by motives of a very contrary kind, but Mr. Hazard did not speculate on this subject; he was glad to carry his point, and let the matter rest there. It was agreed that the next morning Wharton should decide upon the proper course to be taken, and if he chose to reject her figure, she should begin it again. Esther and Catherine went home, but Esther was ill at ease. That her St. Cecilia did not come up to the level of her ambition was a matter of course, and she was prepared for the disappointment. Whose first attempt in a new style ever paired with its conception? She felt that Mr. Hazard would think her wayward and weak. She could not tell him the real reason of her perplexity. She would have liked to work on patiently under Wharton's orders without a thought of herself, but how could she do so when Hazard was day by day coming nearer and nearer until already their hands almost touched. If she had not liked him, the question could easily have been settled, but she did like him, and when she said this to herself she turned scarlet at the thought that he liked her, and--what should she do?

With a heavy heart she made up her mind that there was but one thing to be done; she must retreat into her own house and bar the doors. If he did not see that such an intimacy was sure to make trouble for him, she, who felt, if she did not see, the gulf that separated them, must teach him better.

Whether she would have held to this wise and prudent course against his entreaties and Wharton's commands will never be known, for the question, which at the moment seemed to her so hard to decide, was already answered by fates which left her no voice in the matter. The next morning when the two girls, rather later than usual, reached the south door of the church where a stern guardian always stood to watch lest wolves entered under pretense of business, they saw a woman standing on the steps and gazing at them as they approached from the avenue. In this they found nothing to surprise them, but as they came face to face with her they noticed that the stranger's dress and features were peculiar and uncommon even in New York, the sink of races. Although the weather was not cold, she wore a fur cap, picturesque but much worn, far from neat, and matching in dirt as in style a sort of Polish or Hungarian capote thrown over her shoulders. Her features were strong, coarse and bloated; her eyes alone were fine. When she suddenly spoke to Esther her voice was rough, like her features; and though Esther had seen too little of life to know what depths of degradation such a face and voice meant, she drew back with some alarm. The woman spoke in French only to ask whether this was the church of St. John. Replying shortly that it was, Esther passed in without waiting for another question; but as she climbed the narrow and rough staircase to her gallery, she said to Catherine who was close behind:

"Somewhere I have seen that woman's eyes."

"So have I!" answered Catherine, in a tone of suppressed excitement so unusual that Esther stopped short on the step and turned round.

"Don't you know where?" asked Catherine without waiting to be questioned.

"Where was it?"

"In my picture! Mr. Wharton gave me her eyes. I am sure that woman is his wife."

"Catherine, you shall go back to Colorado. You have been reading too many novels. You are as romantic as a man."

Catherine did not care whether she were romantic or not; she knew the woman was Wharton's wife.

"Perhaps she means to kill him," she ran on in a blood-curdling tone. "Wouldn't it be like Mr. Wharton to be stabbed to the heart on the steps of a church, just as his great work was done? Do you know I think he would like it. He is dying to be tragic like the Venetians, and have some one write a poem about him." Then after a moment's pause, she added, in the same indifferent tone of voice: "All the same, if he's not there, I mean to go back and look out for him. I'm not going to let that woman kill him if I can help it!"

A warm dispute arose between the two girls which continued after they reached their scaffold and found that Wharton was not there. Esther declared that Catherine should not go back; it was ridiculous and improper; Mr. Wharton would laugh in her face and think her bold and impertinent; the woman was probably a beggar who wanted to see Mr. Hazard; and when all this was of no avail Esther insisted that Catherine should not go alone. Catherine, on her part, declared that she was not afraid of the woman, or of any woman, or man either, or of Mr. Wharton, and that she meant to walk down the avenue and meet him, and tell him that this person was there. She was on the point of doing what she threatened when they saw Wharton himself cross the church beneath and slowly climb the stairs.

The two girls, dismissing their alarm as easily as they had taken it up, turned to their own affairs again. In a few minutes Wharton appeared on the scaffolding and went to his regular work-place. After a time they saw him coming to their corner. He looked paler than usual and more abstracted, and, what was unusual, he carried a brush in his hand, as though he had broken off his work without thinking what he was doing. He hardly noticed them, but sat down, holding the brush with both hands, though it was wet. For some time he looked at the Cecilia without a word; then he began abruptly:

"You're quite right! It's not good! It's not handled in a large way or in keeping with the work round it. You might do it again much better. But it is you and it is she! I would leave it. I will leave it! If necessary I could in a few days paint it all over and make it harmonize, but I should spoil it. I can draw better and paint better, but I can't make a young girl from Colorado as pure and fresh as that. To me religion is passion. To reach Heaven, you must go through hell, and carry its marks on your face and figure. I can't paint innocence without suggesting sin, but you can, and the church likes it. Put your own sanctity on the wall beside my martyrdom!"

Esther thought it would be civil on her part to say something at this point, but Wharton's remarks seemed to be made to no one in particular, and she was not quite certain that they were meant for her in spite of the words. He did not look at her. She was used to his peculiar moods and soliloquies, and had learned to be silent at such times. She sat silent now, but Catherine, who took greater liberties with him, was bolder.

"Why can't you paint innocence?" she asked.

"I am going to tell you," he replied, with more quickness of manner. "It is to be the subject of my last lecture. Ladies, school must close to-day."

Esther and Catherine glanced at each other. "You are going to send us away?" asked Catherine in a tone of surprise.

"You must go for the present," answered Wharton. "I mean to tell you the reason, and then you will see why I can't paint innocence as you can. As a lecture on art, my life is worth hearing, but don't interrupt the story or you will lose it. Begin by keeping in your mind that twenty years ago I was a ragged boy in the streets of Cincinnati. The drawing master in a public school to which I went, said I had a natural talent for drawing, and taught me all he knew. Then a little purse was made up for me and I was sent to Paris. Not yet twenty years old, I found myself dropped into that great sewer of a city, a shy, ill-clothed, ill-fed, ill-educated boy, knowing no more of the world above me than a fish knows of the birds. For two years I knocked about in a studio till my money was used up, and then I knew enough to be able to earn a few francs to keep me alive. Then I went down to Italy and of course got a fever. I came back at last to Paris, half-fed, dyspeptic and morbid. I had visions, and the worst vision of my life I am going to tell you.

"It was after I had been some years at work and had got already a little reputation among Americans, that I was at my worst. Nothing seemed real. What earned me my first success was an attempt I made to paint the strange figures and fancies which possessed me. I studied nothing but the most extravagant subjects. For a time nothing would satisfy me but to draw from models at moments of intense suffering and at the instant of death. Models of that kind do not offer themselves and are not to be bought. I made friends with the surgeons and got myself admitted to one of the great hospitals. I happened to be there one day when a woman was brought in suffering from an overdose of arsenic. This was the kind of subject I wanted. She was fierce, splendid, a priestess of the oracle! Tortured by agony and clinging to it as though it were a delight! The next day I came back to look for her: she was then exhausted and half dead. She was a superb model, and I took an interest in her. When she grew better I talked with her and found that she was a sort of Parisian Pole with a strange history. She had been living as an actress at one of the small theaters, and had attempted suicide in sheer disgust with life. I had played with the same idea for years. We had both struggled with the world and hated it. Her imagination was more morbid than my own, and in her quieter moments, when her affections were roused, she was wonderfully tender and devoted. When she left the hospital she put herself under my protection. I believe she loved me, and no one had ever loved me before. I know she took possession of me, body and soul. I married her. I would just as willingly have jumped into the Seine with her if she had preferred it. For three months we lived together while I finished the picture which I called the Priestess of Delphi, painted from my drawings of her in her agony. The picture made a great noise in Paris, and brought me some new friends, among the rest one who, I think, really saved me from Charenton. Hazard called at my studio just as my troubles were beginning to tear me to pieces. My wife had the temper of a fury, and all the vices of Paris. Excitement was her passion; she could not stand the quiet of an artist's life; yet her Bohemian instincts came over her only in waves, and when they left her in peace she still had splendid qualities that held me to her. Hazard came in upon us one day in the middle of a terrible scene when she was threatening again to take her own life, and trying, or pretending to try to take mine. When he came in, she disappeared. The next I heard of her, she was back on the stage--lost! I was worn out; my nervous system was all gone. Then Hazard came to my help and took me off with him to the south of Europe. Our first stage was to Avignon and Vaucluse, and there I found how curiously my experience had affected my art. I had learned to adore purity and repose, but I could never get hold of my ideal. Fifty times I tried to draw Laura as I wanted to realize her and every time I failed. I knew the secret of Petrarch and I could not tell it. My wife came between me and my thought. All life took form in my hands as a passion. If I could learn again to paint a child, or any thing that had not the world in its eyes, I should be at peace at last."

As he paused here, and seemed again to be musing over St. Cecilia, Esther's curiosity made her put in a word,

"And your wife?"--she asked.

"My wife?" he repeated in his abstracted tone, "I never saw her again till this morning when I met her on the steps of the church."

"Then it was your wife?" cried Catherine.

"You saw her?" he asked with a touch of bitterness. "I won't ask what you thought of her."

"I knew her by her eyes," cried Catherine. "I thought she meant to shoot you, and when you came in I was just going to warn you. Now you see, Esther, I was right."

Wharton leaned over and took Catherine's hand. "Thank you," said he. "I believe you are my good angel. But you remind me of what I came to say. The woman is quite capable of that or of any other scandal, and of course Hazard's church must not be exposed to such a risk. I shall come here no longer for the present, neither must you. I am bound to take care of my friends."

"But you!" said Esther. "What are you going to do?"

"I? Nothing! What can I do?"

"Do you mean," said Catherine, with a comical fierceness in her voice as though she wanted herself to take the French actress in hand, "do you mean to let that woman worry you how she likes?"

"The fault was mine," replied Wharton. "I gave her my life. After all she is my wife and I can't help it. I have promised to meet her this afternoon at my studio."

Even to these two girls there was something so helpless in Wharton's ideas of life that they protested against his conduct. Catherine was speechless with inability to understand what he meant. Esther boldly interfered.

"You must do nothing without advice," said she. "Wait till Mr. Hazard comes and consult him. If you can't see him, promise me to go to my uncle, Mr. Murray, and let him take charge of this woman. You will ruin your whole life if you let her into it again."

"It is ruined already," answered Wharton gloomily. "I had that one chance of happiness and I can never have another."

Nevertheless he promised to wait for Hazard, and the two girls obediently bade him good-by. Catherine's eyes were full of tears as he held her hand and begged her pardon for his rudeness. A little romance was passing out of her life. She went down the stairs after Esther without a word. As they left the church they saw the woman on the pavement outside, still walking up and down; Catherine passed her with a glance of repulsion and defiance that made the woman turn and watch her till they disappeared down the avenue.

An hour afterwards a quick step hurried up the stair, and Hazard, evidently much disturbed, appeared on the scaffolding. He found Wharton where the two girls had left him, sitting alone before St. Cecilia, the broken brush still in his hands, and his left hand red with the wet paint. His face was paler than ever, and over the left temple was a large red spot, as though he had been pressing his hands to his forehead. Hazard looked for a moment at the white face, contrasting painfully with its ghastly spot of intense red, and then spoke with assumed indifference:

"So she has turned up again!"

Wharton returned his look with a weak smile which made his face still more horrible, and slowly answered:

"I have worse news than that!"

"More bad news!" said Hazard.

"Tell me what you think," continued Wharton in the same dreamy tone. "You see that Cecilia there?"

Hazard glanced at the figure and back to Wharton without speaking. Presently Wharton added with a smile of inexpressible content:

"Well! I love her."

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 17:46 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 4

 

 

St. John's church was a pleasant spot for such work. The north transept, high up towards the vault of the roof, was still occupied by a wide scaffold which shut in the painters and shut out the curious, and ran the whole length of its three sides, being open towards the body of the church. When Esther came to inspect her field of labor, she found herself obliged to choose between a space where her painting would be conspicuous from below, and one where, except in certain unusual lights, it could hardly be seen at all. Partly out of delicacy, that she might not seem to crowd Wharton's own work into the darkness; partly out of pure diffidence, Esther chose the least conspicuous space, and there a sort of studio was railed off for her, breast high, within which she was mistress. Wharton, when painting, was at this time engaged at some distance, but on the same scaffolding, near the nave.

The great church was silent with the echoing silence which is audible. Except for a call from workmen below to those at work above, or for the murmur of the painters as they chatted in intervals of rest, or for occasional hammering, which echoed in hollow reverberations, no sound disturbed repose. Here one felt the meaning of retreat and self-absorption, the dignity of silence which respected itself; the presence which was not to be touched or seen. To a simple-minded child like Catherine Brooke, the first effect was as impressive as though she were in the church of St. Mark's. She was overwhelmed by the space and silence, the color and form; and as she came close to Wharton's four great figures of the evangelists and saw how coarsely they were painted, and looked sheer down from them upon the distant church-floor, she thought herself in an older world, and would hardly have felt surprised at finding herself turned into an Italian peasant-girl, and at seeing Michael Angelo and Raphael, instead of Wharton and Esther, walk in at the side door, and proceed to paint her in celestial grandeur and beauty, as the new Madonna of the prairie, over the high altar.

This humility lasted several minutes. Then after glancing steadfastly at Wharton's figure of John of Patmos which stood next to that which Esther was to paint, Catherine suddenly broke out:

"Shade of Columbus! You are not going to make me look like that?"

"I suppose I must," replied Esther, mischievously.

"Lean and dingy, in a faded brown blanket?" asked Catherine in evident anguish.

"So Mr. Wharton says," answered Esther, unrelentingly.

"Not if I'm there," rejoined Catherine, this time with an air of calm decision. "I'm no such ornery saint as that."

Henceforth she applied all her energies and feminine charms to the task of preventing this disaster, and her first effort was to make a conquest of Wharton. Esther stood in fear of the painter, who was apt to be too earnest to measure his words with great care. He praised little and found fault much. He broke out in rage with all work that seemed to him weak or sentimental. He required Esther to make her design on the spot that he might see moment by moment what it was coming to, and half a dozen times he condemned it and obliged her to begin anew. Almost every day occurred some scene of discouragement which made Esther almost regret that she had undertaken a task so hard.

Catherine, being encouraged by the idea that Esther was partly struggling for her sake, often undertook to join in the battle and sometimes got roughly handled for her boldness.

"Why can't you let her go her own way, Mr. Wharton, and see what she means to do?" asked Catherine one morning, after a week of unprofitable labor.

"Because she does not come here to go her own way, Miss Brooke, but to go the right way."

"But don't you see that she is a woman, and you are trying to make a man of her?"

"An artist must be man, woman and demi-god," replied Wharton sternly.

"You want me to be Michael Angelo," said Esther, "and I hate him. I don't want to draw as badly as he did."

Wharton gave a little snort of wrath: "I want you to be above your subject, whatever it is. Don't you see? You are trying to keep down on a level with it. That is not the path to Paradise. Put heaven in Miss Brooke's eyes! Heaven is not there now; only earth. She is a flower, if you like. You are the real saint. It is your own paradise that St. Cecilia is singing about. I want to make St. Cecilia glow with your soul, not with Miss Brooke's. Miss Brooke has got no soul yet."

"Neither have I," groaned Esther, making up a little face at Wharton's vehemence.

"No," said Wharton, seized with a gravity as sudden as his outbreak, "I suppose not. A soul is like a bird, and needs a sharp tap on its shell to open it. Never mind! One who has as much feeling for art as you have, must have soul some where."

This sort of lecture might be well enough for Esther, if she had the ability to profit by it, but Catherine had no mind to be thus treated as though she were an early Christian lay-figure. She flushed at hearing herself coolly flung aside like common clay, and her exquisite eyes half filled with tears as she broke out:

"I believe you think I'm a beetle because I come from Colorado! Why may I not have a soul as well as you?"

Wharton started at this burst of feeling; he felt as though he had really cracked the egg-shell of what he called a soul, in the wrong person; but he was not to be diverted from his lecture. "There, Miss Dudley," he said, "look at her now!" Then, catching a crayon, he continued: "Wait! Let me try it myself!" and began rapidly to draw the girl's features. Quite upset by this unexpected recoil of her attack, Catherine would have liked to escape, but the painter, when the fit was on him, became very imperious, and she dared not oppose his will. When at length he finished his sketch, he had the civility to beg her pardon.

"This is a man's work," said Esther, studying his drawing. "No woman would ever have done it. I don't like it. I prefer her as she is and as I made her."

Wharton himself seemed to be not perfectly satisfied with his own success, for he made no answer to Esther's criticism, and after one glance at his sketch, relapsed into moody silence. Perhaps he felt that what he had drawn was not a St. Cecilia at all, and still less a Catherine Brooke. He had narrowed the face, deepened its lines, made the eyes much stronger and darker, and added at least ten years to Catherine's age, in order to give an expression of passion subsided and heaven attained.

"You have reached Nirvana," said Esther to Catherine, still studying the sketch.

"What is Nirvana?" asked Catherine.

"Ask Mr. Wharton. He has put you there."

"Nirvana is what I mean by Paradise," replied Wharton slowly. "It is eternal life, which, my poet says, consists in seeing God."

"I would not like to look like that," said Catherine in an awe-struck tone. "Do you think this picture will ever be like me?"

"The gods forbid!" said the painter uneasily.

Catherine, who could not take her eyes from this revelation of the possible mysteries in her own existence, mysteries which for the first time seemed to have come so near as to over-shadow her face, now suddenly turned to Wharton and said with irresistible simplicity:

"Mr. Wharton, will you let me have it? I have no money. Will you give it to me?"

"You could not buy it. I will give it to you on one condition," replied Wharton.

"Don't make it a hard one."

"You shall forget that I said you had no soul."

"Oh!" said Catherine greatly relieved; "if I have one, you were the first to see it."

She carried the sketch away with her, nor has any one caught sight of it since she rolled it up. She refused to show it or talk of it, until even Strong was forced to drop the subject, and leave her to dream in peace of the romance that could give such a light to her eyes.

Strong was one of the few persons allowed to climb up to their perch and see their work. When he next came, Esther told him of Wharton's lecture, and of Catherine's sudden rebellion. Delighted with this new flight of his prairie bird, Strong declared that as they were all bent on taking likenesses of Catherine, he would like to try his own hand at it, and show them how an American Saint ought to look when seen by the light of science. He then set to work with Esther's pencils, and drew a portrait of Catherine under the figure of a large Colorado beetle, with wings extended. When it was done he pinned it against the wall.

"Now, Esther!" said he. "Take my advice. No one wants European saints over here; they are only clerical bric-à-brac, and what little meaning they ever had is not worth now a tolerable Japanese teapot; but here is a national saint that every one knows; not an American citizen can come into your church from Salt Lake City to Nantucket, who will not say that this is the church for his money; he will believe in your saints, for he knows them. Paint her so!"

"Very well!" said Catherine. "If Mr. Wharton will consent, I have no objection."

Wharton took it with his usual seriousness. "I believe you are right," said he sadly. "I feel more and more that our work is thrown away. If Hazard and the committee will consent, Miss Dudley shall paint what she likes for all me."

No one dared carry die joke so far as to ask Mr. Hazard's consent to canonize this American saint, and Strong after finishing his sketch, and labelling it: "Sta. Catarina 10-Lineata (Colorado)," gave it to Catherine as a companion to Wharton's. For some time she was called the beetle. Wharton's conscience seemed to smite him for his rudeness, and Catherine was promoted to the position of favorite. While Esther toiled over the tiresome draperies of her picture, Catherine would wander off with Wharton on his tours of inspection; she listened to all the discussions, and picked up the meaning of his orders and criticisms; in a short time she began to maintain opinions of her own. Wharton liked to have her near him, and came to get her when she failed to appear at his rounds. They became confidential and sympathetic.

"Are you never homesick for your prairie?" he asked one day.

"Not a bit!" she answered. "I like the East. What is the use of having a world to one's self?"

"What is the use of any thing?" asked Wharton.

"I give it up," she replied. "Does art say that a woman is no use?"

"I know of nothing useful in life," said he, "except what is beautiful or creates beauty. You are beautiful, and ought to be most so on your prairie."

"Am I really beautiful?" asked Catherine with much animation. "No one ever told me so before."

This was coquetry. The young person had often heard of the fact, and, even had she not, her glass told her of it several times a day. She meant only that this was the first time the fact came home to her as a new and exquisite sensation.

"You have the charm of the Colorado hills, and plains," said he. "But you won't keep it here. You will become self-conscious, and self-consciousness is worse than ugliness."

"Nonsense!" said Catherine boldly. "I know more art than you, if that is your notion. Do you suppose girls are so savage in Denver as not to know when they are pretty? Why, the birds are self-conscious! So are horses! So are antelopes! I have seen them often showing off their beauties like New York women, and they are never so pretty as then."

"Don't try it," said he. "If you do, I shall warn you. Tell me, do you think my figure of St. Paul here self-conscious? I lie awake nights for fear I have made him so."

Catherine looked long at the figure and then shook her head. "I could tell you if it were a woman," she said. "All women are more or less alike; but men are quite different, and even the silly ones may have brains somewhere. How can I tell?"

"A grain of self-consciousness would spoil him," said Wharton.

"Then men must be very different from women," she replied. "I will give you leave to paint me on every square inch of the church, walls and roof, and defy you to spoil any charm you think I have, if you will only not make me awkward or silly; and you may make me as self-conscious as Esther's St. Cecilia there, only she calls it modesty."

Catherine was so pulled about and put to such practical uses in art as to learn something by her own weary labors. A quick girl soon picks up ideas when she hears clever men talking about matters which they understand. Esther began to feel a little nervous. Catherine took so kindly to every thing romantic that Wharton began to get power over her. He had a queer imagination of his own, which she could not understand, but which had a sort of fascination for her. She ran errands for him, and became a sort of celestial messenger about the church. As for Wharton, he declared that she stood nearer nature than any woman he knew, and she was in sympathy with his highest emotions. He let her ask innumerable questions, which he answered or not, as happened to suit his mood. He paid no attention to Esther's remonstrances at being deprived of her model, but whenever he wanted Catherine for any purpose, he sent for her, and left Esther to her own resources. Catherine had her own reasons for being docile and for keeping him in good humor. She started with the idea that she did not intend to be painted, if she could help it, as a first century ascetic, without color, and clothed in a hair-cloth wrapper; and having once begun the attempt to carry her own object, she was drawn on without the power to stop.

Her intimacy with Wharton began to make Esther uneasy, so that one day, when Strong came up, and, missing Catherine, asked what had become of her, she consulted him on the subject.

"Catherine has gone off with Mr. Wharton to inspect," she said. "He comes for her or sends for her every day. What can I do about it?"

"Where is the harm?" asked Strong. "If she likes to pass an hour or two doing that sort of thing, I should think it was good for her."

"But suppose she takes a fancy to him?"

"Oh! No woman could marry Wharton," said Strong. "He would forget her too often, and she would lose patience with him before he thought of her again. Give her her head! He will teach her more that is worth her knowing than she would learn in a life-time in Aunt Sarah's parlor."

"I wish I could give her something else to amuse her."

"Well!" replied Strong. "We will invent something." Catherine returned a few minutes later, and he asked her how she got on with the task-master, and whether he had yet recovered her favor.

"Since the beetle turned on him," said Catherine, "we have got on like two little blind mice. He has been as kind to me as though I were his mother; but why is he so mysterious? He will not tell me his history."

"He is the same to us all," said Strong. "Some people think he is ashamed of his origin. He was picked out of the gutters of Cincinnati by some philanthropist and sent abroad for an education. The fact is that he cares no more about his origin than you do for being a Sioux Indian, but he had the misfortune to marry badly in Europe, and hates to talk of it."

"Then he has a wife already, when he is breaking my young heart?" exclaimed Catherine.

"I would like to calm your fears, my poor child," said Strong; "but the truth is that no one knows what has become of his wife. She may be alive, and she may be dead. Do you want me to find out?"

"I am dying to know," said Catherine; "but I will make him tell me all about it one of these days."

"Never!" replied Strong. "He lives only in his art since the collapse of his marriage. He eats and drinks paint."

"Does he really paint so very well?" asked Catherine thoughtfully. "Is he a great genius?"

"Young woman, we are all of us great geniuses. We never say so, because we are as modest as we are great, but just look into my book on fossil batrachians."

"I don't feel the least interest in you or your batrachiums; but I adore Mr. Wharton."

"What is the good of your adoring Wharton?" asked the professor. "Short's very good as far as he goes, but the real friend is Codlin, not Short."

"I shall hate you if you always make fun of me. What do you mean by your Codlins and Shorts?"

"Did you never read Dickens?" cried Strong.

"I never read a novel in my life, if that is what you are talking about," answered Catherine.

"Ho! Cousin Esther! The Sioux don't read Dickens. You should join the tribe."

"I always told you that sensible people never read," said Esther, hard at work on her painting. "Do you suppose St. Cecilia ever read Dickens or would have liked him if she had?"

"Perhaps not," said Strong. "I take very little stock in saints, and she strikes me as a little of a humbug, your Cecilia; but I would like to know what the effect of the 'Old Curiosity Shop' would be on a full-blooded Indian squaw. Catherine, will you try to read it if I bring you a copy here?"

"May I?" asked Catherine. "You know I was taught to believe that novels are sinful."

Strong stared at her a moment with surprise that any new trait in her could surprise him, and then went on solemnly: "Angel, you are many points too good for this wicked city. If you remain here unperverted, you will injure our trade. I must see to it that your moral tone is lowered. Will you read a novel of this person named Dickens if Mr. Hazard will permit you to do so in his church?"

"If Mr. Hazard says I must, I shall do so with pleasure," replied Catherine with her best company manners; and the Reverend Mr. Hazard, having been taken into Esther's confidence on the subject, decided, after reflection, that Miss Brooke's moral nature would not be hurt by reading Dickens under such circumstances; so the next day Catherine was plunged into a new world of imagination which so absorbed her thoughts that for the time Wharton himself seemed common-place. High on her scaffolding which looked sheer down into the empty, echoing church, with huge saints and evangelists staring at her from every side, and martyrs admiring each other's beatitude, Catherine, who was already half inclined to think life unreal, fell into a dream within a dream, and wondered which was untrue.

Esther's anxiety about Catherine was for the time put at rest by the professor's little maneuver, but she had some rather more serious cause for disquiet about herself, in regard to which she did not care to consult her cousin or any one else. Wharton and Strong were not the only men who undertook to enliven her path of professional labor. Every day at noon, the Reverend Stephen Hazard visited his church to see how Wharton was coming forward, and this clerical duty was not neglected after Esther joined the work-people. Much as Mr. Hazard had to do, and few men in New York were busier, he never forgot to look in for a moment on the artists, and Esther could not help noticing that this moment tended to lengthen. He had a way of joining Wharton and Catherine on their tour of inspection, and then bringing Catherine back to Esther's work-place, and sitting down for an instant to rest and look at the St. Cecilia. Time passed rapidly, and once or twice it had come over Esther's mind that, for a very busy man, Mr. Hazard seemed to waste a great deal of time. It grew to be a regular habit that between noon and one o'clock, Esther and Catherine entertained the clergyman of the parish.

The strain of standing in a pulpit is great. No human being ever yet constructed was strong enough to offer himself long as a light to humanity without showing the effect on his constitution. Buddhist saints stand for years silent, on one leg, or with arms raised above their heads, but the limbs shrivel, and the mind shrivels with the limbs. Christian saints have found it necessary from time to time to drop their arms and to walk on their legs, but they do it with a sort of apology or defiance, and sometimes do it, if they can, by stealth. One is a saint or one is not; every man can choose the career that suits him; but to be saint and sinner at the same time requires singular ingenuity. For this reason, wise clergymen, whose tastes, though in themselves innocent, may give scandal to others, enjoy their relaxation, so far as they can, in privacy. Mr. Hazard liked the society of clever men and agreeable women; he was bound to keep an eye on the progress of his own church; he stepped not an inch outside the range of his clerical duty and privilege; yet ill-natured persons, and there were such in his parish, might say that he was carrying on a secular flirtation in his own church under the pretense of doing his duty. Perhaps he felt the risk of running into this peril. He invited no public attention to the manner in which he passed this part of his time, and never alluded to the subject in other company.

To make his incessant attention still more necessary, it happened that Hazard's knowledge and his library were often drawn upon by Wharton and his workmen. Not only was he learned in all matters which pertained to church arrangement and decoration, but his collection of books on the subject was the best in New York, and his library touched the church wall. Wharton had a quantity of his books in constant use, and was incessantly sending to consult about points of doubt. Hazard was bent upon having every thing correct, and complained sadly when he found that his wishes were not regarded. He lectured Wharton on the subject of early Christian art until he saw that Wharton would no longer listen, and then he went off to Miss Dudley, and lectured her.

Esther was not a good subject for instruction of this sort. She cared little for what the early Christians believed, either in religion or art, and she remembered nothing at all of his deep instruction on the inferences to be drawn from the contents of crypts and catacombs. The more earnest he became, the less could she make out his meaning. She could not reconcile herself to draw the attenuated figures and haggard forms of the early martyrs merely because they suited the style of church decoration; and she could see no striking harmony of relation between these ill-looking beings and the Fifth Avenue audience to whom they were supposed to have some moral or sentimental meaning. After one or two hesitating attempts to argue this point, she saw that it was useless, and made up her mind that as a matter of ordinary good manners, the least she could do was to treat Mr. Hazard civilly in his own church, and listen with respect to his lectures on Christian art. She even did her best to obey his wishes in all respects in which she understood them, but here an unexpected and confusing play of cross-purposes came in to mislead her. Wharton suddenly found that Hazard let Miss Dudley have her own way to an extent permitted to no one else. Esther was not conscious that the expression of a feeling or a wish on her part carried any special weight, but there could be no doubt that if Miss Dudley seemed to want any thing very much, Mr. Hazard showed no sense of shame in suddenly forgetting his fixed theories and encouraging her to do what she pleased. This point was settled when she had been some ten days at work trying to satisfy Wharton's demands, which were also Mr. Hazard's, in regard to the character and expression of St. Cecilia. Catherine was so earnest not to be made repulsive, and Esther's own tastes lay so strongly in the same direction, that when it came to the point, she could not force herself to draw such a figure as was required; she held out with a sort of feminine sweetness such as cried aloud for discipline, and there was no doubt that Wharton was quite ready to inflict it. In spite of Catherine, and Esther too, he would have carried his point, had Esther not appealed to Mr. Hazard; but this strenuous purist, who had worried Wharton and the building committee with daily complaints that the character of their work wanted spiritual earnestness, now suddenly, at a word from Miss Dudley, turned about and encouraged her, against Wharton's orders, to paint a figure, which, if it could be seen, which was fortunately not the case, must seem to any one who cared for such matters, out of keeping with all the work which surrounded it.

"Do you know," said Esther to Mr. Hazard, "that Mr. Wharton insists on my painting Catherine as though she were forty years old and rheumatic?"

"I know," he replied, glancing timidly towards the procession of stern and elderly saints and martyrs, finished and unfinished, which seemed to bear up the church walls. "Do you think she would feel at home here if she were younger or prettier?"

"No! Honestly, I don't think she would," said Esther, becoming bold as he became timid. "I will paint Cecilia eighty years old, if Mr. Wharton wants her so. She will have lost her touch on the piano, and her voice will be cracked, but if you choose to set such an example to your choir, I will obey. But I can't ask Catherine to sit for such a figure. I will send out for some old woman, and draw from her."

"I can't spare Miss Brooke," said Hazard hastily. "The church needs her. Perhaps you can find some middle way with Wharton."

"No! If I am to paint her at all, I must paint her as she is. There is more that is angelic in her face now, if I could only catch it, than there is in all Mr. Wharton's figures put together, and if I am to commit sacrilege, I would rather be untrue to Mr. Wharton, than to her."

"I believe you are right, Miss Dudley. There is a little look of heaven in Miss Brooke's eyes. If you think you can put it into the St. Cecilia, why not try? If the experiment fails you can try again on another plan. After all, the drapery is the only part that needs to be very strictly in keeping."

Thus this despotic clergyman gave way and irritated Wharton, who, having promised to let him decide the dispute, was now suddenly overruled. He shrugged his shoulders and told Esther in private that he had struggled hard to get permission to do what she was doing, but only the sternest, strongest types would satisfy the church then. "It was all I could do to get them down to the thirteenth century," he said; "whenever I begged for beauty of form, they asked me whether I wanted the place to look like a theater."

"You know they're quite right," said Esther. "It has a terribly grotesque air of theater even now."

"It is a theater," growled Wharton. "That is what ails our religion. But it is not the fault of our art, and if you had come here a little earlier, I would have made one more attempt. I would like now, even as it is, to go back to the age of beauty, and put a Madonna in the heart of their church. The place has no heart."

"I never could have given you help enough for that, Mr. Wharton; but what does it matter about my poor Cecilia? She does no harm up here. No one can see her, and after all it is only her features that are modern!"

"No harm at all, but I wish I were a woman like you. Perhaps I could have my own way."

Esther liked to have her own way. She had the instinct of power, but not the love of responsibility, and now that she found herself allowed to violate Wharton's orders and derange his plans, she became alarmed, asked no more favors, stuck closely to her work, and kept Catherine always at her side. She even tried to return on her steps and follow Wharton's wishes, until she was stopped by Catherine's outcry. Then it appeared that Wharton had gone over to her side. Instead of supporting Esther in giving severity to the figure, he wanted it to be the closest possible likeness of Catherine herself. Esther began to think that men were excessively queer and variable; the more she tried to please them, the less she seemed to succeed; but Mr. Wharton certainly took more interest in the St. Cecilia as it advanced towards completion, although it was not in the least the kind of work which he liked or respected.

Mr. Hazard took not so much interest in the painting. His pleasure in visiting their gallery seemed to be of a different sort. As Esther learned to know him better, she found that he was suffering from over-work and responsibility, and that the painters' gallery was a sort of refuge, where he escaped from care, for an entire change of atmosphere and thought. In this light Esther found him a very charming fellow, especially when he was allowed to have his own way without question or argument. He talked well; drew well; wrote well, and in case of necessity could even sing fairly well. He had traveled far and wide, and had known many interesting people. He had a sense of humor, except where his church was concerned. He was well read, especially in a kind of literature of which Esther had heard nothing, the devotional writings of the church, and the poetry of religious expression. Esther liked to pick out plums of poetry, without having to search for them on her own account, and as Hazard liked to talk even better than she to listen, they babbled on pleasantly together while Catherine read novels which Hazard chose for her, and which he selected with the idea of carrying her into the life of the past. There was an atmosphere of romance about her novels, and not about the novels alone.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 17:38 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 3

 

 

Once a week, if she could, Esther passed an hour or two with the children at the hospital. This building had accommodations for some twenty-five or thirty small patients, and as it was a private affair, the ladies managed it to please themselves. The children were given all the sunlight that could be got into their rooms and all the toys and playthings they could profitably destroy. As the doctors said that, with most of them, amusement was all they would ever get out of life, an attempt was made to amuse them. One large room was fitted up for the purpose, and the result was so satisfactory that Esther got more pleasure out of it than the children did. Here a crowd of little invalids, playing on the yellow floor or lying on couches, were always waiting to be amused and longing to be noticed, and thought themselves ill-treated if at least one of the regular visitors did not appear every day to hear of their pains and pleasures. Esther's regular task was to tell them a story, and, learning from experience that she could double its effect by illustrating it, she was in the custom of drawing, as she went on, pictures of her kings and queens, fairies, monkeys and lions, with amiable manners and the best moral characters. Thus drawing as she talked, the story came on but slowly, and spread itself over weeks and months of time.

On this Saturday afternoon Esther was at her work in the play-room, surrounded by a dozen or more children, with a cripple, tortured by hip-disease, lying at her side and clinging to her skirt, while a proud princess, with red and white cheeks and voluminous robes, was making life bright with colored crayons and more highly colored adventures, when the door opened and Esther saw the Rev. Stephen Hazard, with her aunt, Mrs. Murray, on the threshold.

Mr. Hazard was not to blame if the scene before him made a sudden and sharp picture on his memory. The autumn sun was coming in at the windows; the room was warm and pleasant to look at; on a wide brick hearth, logs of hickory and oak were burning; two tall iron fire-dogs sat up there on their hind legs and roasted their backs, animals in which the children were expected to take living interest because they had large yellow glass eyes through which the fire sparkled; with this, a group of small invalids whose faces and figures were stamped with the marks of organic disease; and in the center--Esther!

Mr. Hazard had come here this afternoon partly because he thought it his duty, and partly because he wanted to create closer relations with a parishioner so likely to be useful as Mrs. Murray. He was miserable with a cold, and was weak with fatigue. His next sermon was turning out dull and disjointed. His building committee were interfering and quarreling with Wharton. A harsh north-west wind had set his teeth on edge and filled his eyes with dust. Rarely had he found himself in a less spiritual frame of mind than when he entered this room. The contrast was overwhelming. When Esther at first said quite decidedly that nothing would induce her to go on with her story, he felt at once that this was the only thing necessary to his comfort, and made so earnest an appeal that she was forced to relent, though rather ungraciously, with a laughing notice that he must listen very patiently to her sermon as she had listened to his. The half hour which he now passed among kings and queens in tropical islands and cocoanut groves, with giants and talking monkeys, was one of peace and pleasure. He drew so good a monkey on a cocoanut tree that the children shouted with delight, and Esther complained that his competition would ruin her market. She rose at last to go, telling him that she was sorry to seem so harsh, but had she known that his pictures and stories were so much better than hers, she would never have voted to make him a visitor.

Mr. Hazard was flattered. He naturally supposed that a woman must have some fine quality if she could interest Wharton and Strong, two men utterly different in character, and at the same time amuse suffering children, and drag his own mind out of its deepest discouragement, without show of effort or consciousness of charm. In this atmosphere of charity, where all faiths were alike and all professions joined hands, the church and the world became one, and Esther was the best of allies; while to her eyes Mr. Hazard seemed a man of the world, with a talent for drawing and a quick imagination, gentle with children, pleasant with women, and fond of humor. She could not help thinking that if he would but tell pleasant stories in the pulpit, and illustrate them on a celestial blackboard such as Wharton might design, church would be an agreeable place to pass one's Sunday mornings in. As for him, when she went away with her aunt, he returned to his solitary dinner with a mind diverted from its current. He finished his sermon without an effort. He felt a sort of half-conscious hope that Esther would be again a listener, and that he might talk it over with her. The next morning he looked about the church and was disappointed at not seeing her there. This young man was used to flattery; he had been sickened with it, especially by the women of his congregation; he thought there was nothing of this nature against which he was not proof; yet he resented Esther Dudley's neglect to flatter him by coming to his sermon. Her absence was a hint that at least one of his congregation did not care to hear him preach a second time.

Piqued at this indifference to his eloquence and earnestness he went the next afternoon, according to his agreement, to Strong's rooms, knowing that Miss Dudley was to be there, and determined to win her over. The little family party which Strong had got together was intended more for this purpose than for any other, and Strong, willing to do what he could to smooth his friend's path, was glad to throw him in contact with persons from whom he could expect something besides flattery. Strong never conceived it possible that Hazard could influence them, but he thought their influence likely to be serious upon Hazard. He underrated his friend's force of character.

His eyes were soon opened. Catherine Brooke made her first appearance on this occasion, and was greatly excited at the idea of knowing people as intellectual as Mr. Hazard and Mr. Wharton. She thought them a sort of princes, and was still ignorant that such princes were as tyrannical as any in the Almanach de Gotha, and that those who submitted to them would suffer slavery. Her innocent eagerness to submit was charming, and the tyrants gloated over the fresh and radiant victim who was eager to be their slave. They lured her on, by assumed gentleness, in the path of bric-à-brac and sermons.

In her want of experience she appealed to Strong, who had not the air of being their accomplice, but seemed to her a rather weak-minded ally of her own. Strong had seated her by the window, and was teaching her to admire his collections, while Wharton and Hazard were talking with the rest of the party on the other side of the room.

"What kind of an artist is Mr. Wharton?" asked Catherine.

"A sort of superior house-painter," replied Strong. "He sometimes does glazing."

"Nonsense!" said Catherine contemptuously. "I know all about him. Esther has told me. I want to know how good an artist he is. What would they think of him in Paris?"

"That would depend on whether they owned any of his pictures," persisted Strong. "I think he might be worse. But then I have one of his paintings, and am waiting to sell it when the market price gets well up. Do you see it? The one over my desk in the corner. How do you like it?"

"Why does he make it so dark and dismal?" asked Catherine. "I can't make it out."

"That is the charm," he replied. "I never could make it out myself; let's ask him;" and he called across the room: "Wharton, will you explain to Miss Brooke what your picture is about? She wants to know, and you are the only man who can tell her."

Wharton in his grave way came over to them, and first looking sadly at Miss Brooke, then at the picture, said at length, as though to himself: "I thought it was good when I did it. I think it is pretty good now. What criticism do you make, Miss Brooke?"

Catherine was in mortal terror, but stood her ground like a heroine. "I said it seemed to me dark, Mr. Wharton, and I asked why you made it so."

Wharton looked again at the picture and meditated over it. Then he said: "Do you think it would be improved by being lighter?"

Although Catherine pleaded guilty to this shocking heresy, she did it with so much innocence of manner that, in a few minutes, Wharton was captured by her sweet face, and tried to make her understand his theory that the merit of a painting was not so much in what it explained as in what it suggested. Comments from the by-standers interfered with his success. Hazard especially perplexed Catherine's struggling attention by making fun of Wharton's lecture.

"Your idea of a picture," said he, "must seem to Miss Brooke like my Cincinnati parishioner's idea of a corn-field. I was one day admiring his field of Indian corn, which stretched out into the distance like Lake Erie in a yellow sunset, when the owner, looking at his harvest as solemnly as Wharton is looking at his picture, said that what he liked most was the hogs he could see out of it."

"Well," said Wharton, "the Dutch made a good school out of men like him. Art is equal to any thing. I will paint his hogs for him, slaughtered and hung up by the hind legs, and if I know how to paint, I can put his corn-field into them, like Ostade, and make the butchers glow with emotion."

"Don't believe him, Miss Brooke," said Hazard. "He wants you to do his own work, and if you give in to him you are lost. He covers a canvas with paint and then asks you to put yourself into it. He might as well hold up a looking-glass to you. Any man can paint a beautiful picture if he could persuade Miss Brooke to see herself in it."

"What a pretty compliment," said Esther. "It is more flattering than the picture."

"You can prove its truth, Miss Dudley," said Hazard. "It is easy to show that I am right. Paint Miss Brooke yourself! Give to her the soul of the Colorado plains! Show that beauty of subject is the right ideal! You will annihilate Wharton and do an immortal work."

Hazard's knack of fixing an influence wherever he went had long been the wonder of Strong, but had never surprised or amused him more than now, when he saw Esther, after a moment's hesitation, accept this idea, and begin to discuss with Hazard the pose and surroundings which were to give Catherine Brooke's picture the soul of the Colorado plains. Hazard drew well and had studied art more carefully than most men. He used to say that if he had not a special mission for the church, as a matter of personal taste he should have preferred the studio. He not only got at once into intimate relations with Esther and Catherine, but he established a sort of title in Esther's proposed portrait. Strong laughed to himself at seeing that even Mr. Dudley, who disliked the clergy more than any other form of virtue, was destined to fall a victim to Hazard's tact.

When the clergyman walked away from Strong's rooms that afternoon, he felt, although even to himself he would not have confessed it, a little elated. Instinct has more to do than vanity with such weaknesses, and Hazard's instinct told him that his success, to be lasting, depended largely on overcoming the indifference of people like the Dudleys. If he could not draw to himself and his church the men and women who were strong enough to have opinions of their own, it was small triumph to draw a procession of followers from a class who took their opinions, like their jewelry, machine-made. He felt that he must get a hold on the rebellious age, and that it would not prove rebellious to him. He meant that Miss Dudley should come regularly to church, and on his success in bringing her there, he was half-ready to stake the chances of his mission in life.

So Catherine's portrait was begun at once, when Catherine herself had been barely a week in New York. To please Esther, Mr. Dudley had built for her a studio at the top of his house, which she had fitted up in the style affected by painters, filling it with the regular supply of eastern stuffs, porcelains, and even the weapons which Damascus has the credit of producing; one or two ivory carvings, especially a small Italian crucifix; a lay figure; some Japanese screens, and eastern rugs. Her studio differed little from others, unless that it was cleaner than most; and it contained the usual array of misshapen sketches pinned against the wall, and of spoiled canvases leaning against each other in corners as though they were wall flower beauties pouting at neglect.

Here Catherine Brooke was now enthroned as the light of the prairie, and day after day for three weeks, Esther labored over the portrait with as much perseverance as though Hazard were right in promising that it should make her immortal. The last days of November and the first of December are the best in the year for work, and Esther worked with an energy that surprised her. She wanted to extort praise from Mr. Wharton, and even felt a slight shade of responsibility towards Mr. Hazard. At first no one was to be admitted to see it while in progress; then an exception was made for Strong and Hazard who came to the house one evening, and in a moment of expansiveness were told that they would be admitted to the studio. They came, and Esther found Mr. Hazard's suggestions so useful that she could not again shut him out. In return she was shamed into going to church with her aunt the following Sunday, where she heard Mr. Hazard preach again. She did not enjoy it, and did not think it necessary to repeat the compliment. "One should not know clergymen," she said in excuse to her father for not liking the sermon; "there is no harm in knowing an actress or opera-singer, but religion is a serious thing." Mr. Hazard did not know how mere a piece of civility her attendance was; he saw only that she was present, that his audience was larger and his success more assured than ever. With this he was well satisfied, and, as he had been used in life always to have his own way, he took it for granted that in this instance he had got it.

The portrait of course did not satisfy Esther. Do what she would, Catherine's features and complexion defied modeling and made the artificial colors seem hard and coarse. The best she could paint was not far from down-right failure. She felt the danger and called Mr. Hazard to her aid. Hazard suggested alterations, and insisted much on what he was pleased to call "values," which were not the values Esther had given. With his help the picture became respectable, as pictures go, although it would not have been with impunity that Tintoret himself had tried to paint the soul of the prairie.

Esther, like most women, was timid, and wanted to be told when she could be bold with perfect safety, while Hazard's grasp of all subjects, though feminine in appearance, was masculine and persistent in reality. To be steadily strong was not in Esther's nature. She was audacious only by starts, and recoiled from her own audacity. Before long, Hazard began to dominate her will. She felt a little uneasy until he had seen and approved her work. More than once he disapproved, and then she had to do it over again. She began at length to be conscious of this impalpable tyranny, and submitted to it only because she felt her own dependence and knew that in a few days more she should be free. If he had been clerical or dogmatic, she might have resented it and the charm would have broken to pieces on the spot, but he was for the time a painter like herself, as much interested in the art, and caring for nothing else.

Towards Christmas the great work was finished, and the same party that had met a month before at Strong's rooms, came together again in Esther's studio to sit upon and judge the portrait they had suggested. Mr. Dudley, with some effort, climbed up from his library; Mrs. Murray again acted as chaperon, and even Mr. Murray, whose fancy for pictures was his only known weakness, came to see what Esther had made of Catherine. The portrait was placed in a light that showed all its best points and concealed as far as possible all its weak ones; and Esther herself poured out tea for the connoisseurs.

To disapprove in such a company was not easy, but Wharton was equal to the task. He never compromised his convictions on such matters even to please his hosts, and in consequence had given offense to most of the picture-owners in the city of New York. He showed little mercy now to Esther, and perhaps his attack might have reduced her courage to despair, had she not found a champion who took her defense wholly on his own shoulders. It happened that Wharton attacked parts of the treatment for which Hazard was responsible, and when Hazard stepped into the lists, avowing that he had advised the work and believed it to be good, Esther was able to retire from the conflict and to leave the two men fighting a pitched battle over the principles of art. Hazard defended and justified every portion of the painting with a vigor and resource quite beyond Esther's means, and such as earned her lively gratitude. When he had reduced Wharton to silence, which was not a difficult task, for Wharton was a poor hand at dispute or argument, and felt rather than talked, Mr. Hazard turned to Esther who gave him a look of gratitude such as she had rarely conferred on any of his sex.

"I think we have ground him to powder at last," said Hazard with his boyish laugh of delight.

"I never knew before what it was to have a defender," said she simply.

Meanwhile Strong, who thought this battle no affair of his, was amusing himself as usual by chaffing Catherine. "I have told my colleague, who professes languages," said he, "that I have a young Sioux in the city, and he is making notes for future conversation with you."

"What will he talk about," asked Catherine; "are all professors as foolish as you?"

"He will be light and airy with you. He asked me what gens you belonged to. I told him I guessed it was the grouse gens. He said he had not been aware that such a totem existed among the Sioux. I replied that, so far as I could ascertain, you were the only surviving member of your family."

"Well, and what am I to say?" asked Catherine.

"Tell him that the Rocky Mountains make it their only business to echo his name," said Strong. "Have you an Indian grandmother?"

"No, but perhaps I could lariat an old aunt for him, if he will like me better for it."

"Aunt will do," said Strong. "Address the old gentleman in Sioux, and call him the 'dove with spectacles.' It will please his soft old heart, and he will take off his spectacles and fall in love with you. There is nothing so frivolous as learning; nothing else knows enough."

"I like him already," said Catherine. "A professor with spectacles is worth more than a Sioux warrior. I will go with him."

"Don't be in a hurry," replied Strong; "it will come to about the same thing in the end. My colleague will only want your head to dry and stuff for his collection."

"If I were a girl again," said Mrs. Murray, who was listening to their conversation, "I would much rather a man should ask for my head than my heart."

"That is what is the matter with all of you," said Strong. "There are Wharton and Esther at it again, quarreling about Catherine's head. Every body disputes about her head, and I am the only one who goes for her heart."

"Mr. Wharton is so stern," pleaded Esther in defense against the charge of quarreling. "A hundred times he has told me that I can't draw; he should have made me learn when he undertook to teach me."

"You might learn more easily now, if you would be patient about it," said Wharton. "You have too much quickness and not enough knowledge."

"I think Mr. Hazard turns his compliments better than you," said Esther. "After one of your speeches I have to catch my breath and think what it means."

"I mean that you ought to be a professional," replied Wharton.

"But if I were able to be a professional, do you think I would be an amateur?" asked Esther. "No! I would decorate a church."

"If that is all your ambition, do it now!" said Wharton. "Come and help me to finish St. John's. I have half a dozen workmen there who are certainly not so good as you."

"What will you give me to do?" asked she.

"I will engage you to paint, under my direction, a large female figure on the transept wall. There are four vacant spaces for which I have made only rough drawings, and you can try your hand on whichever you prefer. You shall be paid like the other artists, and you will find some other women employed there, to keep you company."

"Let me choose the subject," said Mr. Hazard. "I think I have a voice in the matter."

"That depends on your choice," replied Wharton.

"It must be St. Cecilia, of course," said Hazard; "and Miss Brooke must sit again as model."

"Could you not sit yourself as St. George on the dragon?" asked Strong. "I have just received a tertiary dragon from the plains, which I should like to see properly used in the interests of the church."

"Catherine is a better model," answered Esther.

"You've not yet seen my dragon. Let me bring him round to you. With Hazard on his back, he would fly away with you all into the stars."

"There are dragons enough at St. John's," answered Hazard. "I will ride on none of them."

"You've no sense of the highest art," said Strong. "Science alone is truth. You are throwing away your last chance to reconcile science and religion."

So, after much discussion, it was at last decided that Esther Dudley should begin work at St. John's as a professional decorator under Mr. Wharton's eye, and that her first task should be to paint a standing figure of St. Cecilia, some eight or ten feet high, on the wall of the north transept.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 17:31 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 2

 

 

Punctually the next day at three o'clock, Esther Dudley appeared in her aunt's drawing-room where she found half a dozen ladies chatting, or looking at Mr. Murray's pictures in the front parlor. The lady of the house sat in an arm-chair before the fire in an inner room, talking with two other ladies of the board, one of whom, with an aggressive and superior manner, seemed finding fault with every thing except the Middle Ages and Pericles.

"A tailor who builds a palace to live in," said she, "is a vulgar tailor, and an artist who paints the tailor and his palace as though he were painting a doge of Venice, is a vulgar artist."

"But, Mrs. Dyer," replied her hostess coldly, "I don't believe there was any real difference between a doge of Venice and a doge of New York. They all made fortunes more or less by cheating their neighbors, and when they were rich they wanted portraits. Some one told them to send for Mr. Tizian or Mr. Wharton, and he made of them all the gentlemen there ever were."

Mrs. Dyer frowned a protest against this heresy. "Tizian would have respected his art," said she; "these New York men are making money."

"For my part," said Mrs. Murray as gently as she could, "I am grateful to any one who likes beautiful things and is willing to pay for them, and I hope the artists will make them as beautiful as they can for the money. The number is small."

With this she rose, and moving to the table, called her meeting to order. The ladies seated themselves in a business-like way round about, and listened with masculine gravity to a long written report on the work done or needing to be done at the Children's Hospital. Debate rose on the question of putting in a new kitchen range and renewing the plumbing. Mrs. Dyer took the floor, or the table, very much to herself, dealing severely with the treatment of the late kitchen range, and bringing numerous complaints against the matron, the management and the hospital in general. There was an evident look of weariness on the part of the board when she began, but not until after a two hours' session did she show signs of exhaustion and allow a vote to be taken. The necessary work was then rapidly done, and at last Mrs. Murray, referring in a business-like way to her notes, remarked that she had nothing more to suggest except that Mr. Hazard, the new clergyman at St. John's, should be elected as a member of their visiting committee.

"Do we want more figure-heads there?" asked Mrs. Dyer. "Every day and every hour of Mr. Hazard's time ought to be devoted to his church. What we want is workers. We have no one to look after the children's clothes and go down into the kitchen. All our visitors are good for is to amuse the children for half an hour now and then by telling them stories."

Mrs. Murray explained that the election was rather a matter of custom; that the rector of St. John's always had been a member of their committee, and it would look like a personal slight if they left him off; so the vote was passed and the meeting broke up. When the last echo of rapid talk and leave-taking had ceased, Mrs. Murray sat down again before the fire with the air of one who has tried to keep her temper and has not thoroughly satisfied her ambition.

"Mrs. Dyer is very trying," she said to Esther who stayed after the others went; "but there is always one such woman on every board. I should not care except that she gives me a dreadful feeling that I am like her. I hope I'm not, but I know I am."

"You're not, Aunt Sarah!" replied Esther. "She can stick pins faster and deeper than a dozen such as you. What makes me unhappy is that her spitefulness goes so deep. Her dig at me about telling stories to the children seemed to cut me up by the roots. All I do is to tell them stories."

"I hope she will never make herself useful in that way," rejoined Mrs. Murray grimly. "She would frighten the poor little things into convulsions. Don't let her worry you about usefulness. One of these days you will have to be useful whether you like it or not, and now you are doing enough if you are only ornamental. I know you will hold your tongue at the board meetings, and that is real usefulness."

"Very well, aunt! I can do that. And I can go on cutting out dolls' clothes for the children, though Mrs. Dyer will complain that my dolls are not sufficiently dressed. I wish I did not respect people for despising me."

"If we did not, there would be no Mrs. Dyers," answered her aunt. "She is a terrible woman. I feel always like a sort of dry lamp-wick when she has left me. Never mind! I have something else now to talk about. I want you to make yourself useful in a harder path."

"Not another Charity Board, aunt," said Esther rather piteously.

"Worse!" said Mrs. Murray. "A charity girl! Thirty years ago I had a dear friend who was also a friend of your poor mother's. Her name was Catherine Cortright. She married a man named Brooke, and they went west, and they kept going further and further west until at length they reached Colorado, where she died, leaving one daughter, a child of ten years old. The father married again and had a new family. Very lately he has died, leaving the girl with her step-mother and half-sisters. She is unhappy there; they seem to have brought her up in a strict Presbyterian kind of way, and she does not like it. Mr. Murray is an executor under her father's will, and when she comes of age in a few months, she will have a little independent property. She has asked me to look after her till then, and is coming on at once to make me a visit."

"You are always doing something for somebody," said Esther. "What do you expect her to be, and how long will she stay?"

"I don't expect any thing, my dear, and my heart sinks whenever I think of her. My letters say she is amiable and pretty; but if she is a rattlesnake, I must take her in, and you must help to amuse her."

"I will do all I can," replied Esther. "Don't be low about it. She can't be as bad as Mrs. Dyer even if she is a rattlesnake. If she is pretty, and turns out well, we will make George marry her."

"I wish we might," said her aunt.

Esther went her way and thought no more of the orphan, but Mrs. Murray carried the weight of all New York on her mind. Not the least of her anxieties was the condition of her brother-in-law, Esther's father. He was now a confirmed invalid, grateful for society and amusement, and almost every day he expected his sister-in-law to take him to drive, if the weather was tolerable. The tax was severe, but she bore it with heroism, and his gratitude sustained her. When she came for him the next morning, she found him reading as usual, and waiting for her. "I was just wondering," said he, "whether I could read five minutes longer without a stimulant. Do you know that indiscriminate reading is a fiendish torture. No convict could stand it. I seldom take up a book in these days without thinking how much more amusing it would be to jolt off on a bright day at the head of a funeral procession. Between the two ways of amusing one's-self, I am principled against books."

"You have a very rough way of expressing your tastes," said Mrs. Murray with a shiver, as they got into her carriage. "Do you know, I never could understand the humor of joking about funerals."

"That surprises me," said Mr. Dudley. "A good funeral needs a joke. If mine is not more amusing than my friends', I would rather not go to it. The kind of funeral I am invited to has no sort of charm. Indeed, I don't know that I was ever asked to one that seemed to me to show an elegant hospitality in the host."

"If you can't amuse me better, William, I will drive you home again," said his sister-in-law.

"Not quite yet. I have something more to say on this business of funerals which is just now not a little on my mind."

"Are you joking now, or serious?" asked Mrs. Murray.

"I cannot myself see any humor in what I have to say," replied Mr. Dudley; "but I am told that even professional humorists seldom enjoy jokes at their own expense. The case is this. My doctors, who give me their word of honor that they are not more ignorant than the average of their profession, told me long ago that I might die at any moment. I knew then that I must be quite safe, and thought no more about it. Their first guess was wrong. Instead of going off suddenly and without notice, as a colonel of New York volunteers should, I began last summer to go off by bits, as though I were ashamed to be seen running away. This time the doctors won't say any thing, which alarms me. I have watched myself and them for some weeks until I feel pretty confident that I had better get ready to start. All through life I have been thinking how I could best get out of it, and on the whole I am well enough satisfied with this way, except on Esther's account, and it is about her that I want to consult you."

Mrs. Murray knew her brother-in-law too well to irritate him by condolence or sympathy. She said only: "Why be anxious? Esther can take care of herself. Perhaps she will marry, but if not, she has nothing to fear. The unmarried women nowadays are better off than the married ones."

"Oh!" said Mr. Dudley with his usual air of deep gravity; "it is not she, but her husband who is on my mind. I have hated the fellow all his life. About twice a year I have treacherously stabbed him in the back as he was going out of my own front door. I knew that he would interfere with my comfort if I let him get a footing. After all he was always a poor creature, and did not deserve to live. My conscience does not reproach me. But now, when I am weak, and his ghost rises in an irrepressible manner, and grins at me on my own threshold, I begin to feel a sort of pity, mingled with contempt. I want to show charity to him before I die."

"What on earth do you mean?" asked his sister-in-law with an impatient groan. "For thirty years I have been trying to understand you, and you grow worse every year."

"Now, I am not surprised to hear you say so. Any sympathy for the husband is unusual, no doubt, yet I am not prepared to admit that it is unintelligible. You go too far."

"Take your own way, William. When you are tired, let me know what it is that you think I can do."

"I want you to find the poor fellow, and tell him that I bear him no real ill-will."

"You want me to find a husband for Esther?"

"If you have nothing better to do. I have looked rather carefully through her list of friends, and, taking out the dancing men who don't count, I see nobody who would answer, except perhaps her Cousin George, and to marry him would be cold-blooded. She might as well marry you."

"I have thought a great deal about that match, as you know," replied Mrs. Murray. "It would not answer. I could get over the cousinship, if I must, but Esther will want a husband to herself and George is a vagabond. He could never make her happy."

"George had the ill-luck," said Mr. Dudley, "to inherit a small spark of something almost like genius; and a little weak genius mixed in with a little fortune, goes a long way towards making a jack-o-lantern. Still we won't exaggerate George's genius. After all there is not enough of it to prevent his being the best of the lot."

"He could not hold her a week," said Mrs. Murray; "nor she him."

"I own that on his wedding day he would probably be in Dakota flirting with the bones of a fossil monkey," said Mr. Dudley thoughtfully; "but what better can you suggest?"

"I suggest that you should leave it alone, and let Esther take care of her own husband," replied Mrs. Murray. "Women must take their chance. It is what they are for. Marriage makes no real difference in their lot. All the contented women are fools, and all the discontented ones want to be men. Women are a blunder in the creation, and must take the consequences. If Esther is sensible she will never marry; but no woman is sensible, so she will marry without consulting us."

"You are always eloquent on this subject," said Mr. Dudley. "Why have you never applied for a divorce from poor Murray?"

"Because Mr. Murray happens to be one man in a million," answered she. "Nothing on earth would induce me to begin over again and take such a risk a second time, with life before me. As for bringing about a marriage, I would almost rather bring about a murder."

"Poor Esther!" said he gloomily. "She has been brought up among men, and is not used to harness. If things go wrong she will rebel, and a woman who rebels is lost."

"Esther has known too many good men ever to marry a bad one," she replied.

"I am not sure of that," he answered. "When I am out of the way she will feel lonely, and any man who wants her very much can probably get her. Joking apart, it is there I want your help. Keep an eye on her. Your principles will let you prevent a marriage, even though you are not allowed to make one."

"I hope she will not want my help in either way," said Mrs. Murray; "but if she does, I will remember what you say--though I would rather go out to service at five dollars a week than do this kind of work. Do you know that I have already a girl on my hands? Poor Catherine Brooke's daughter is coming to-morrow from Colorado to be under my care for the next few months till she is of age. She never has been to the East, and I expect to have my hands full."

"If I had known it," said he, "I think I would have selected some wiser woman to look after Esther."

"You are too encouraging," replied Mrs. Murray. "If I talk longer with you I shall have a crying fit. Suppose we change the subject and amuse ourselves in a cheerfuller way."

They finished their drive talking of less personal matters, but Mrs. Murray, after leaving her brother-in-law at his house, went back to her own with spirits depressed to a point as low as any woman past fifty cares to enjoy. She had reason to know that Mr. Dudley was not mistaken about his symptoms, and that not many months could pass before that must happen which he foresaw. He could find some relief in talking and even in jesting about it, but she could only with difficulty keep herself from an outburst of grief. She had every reason to feel keenly. To lose one's oldest friends is a trial that human nature never accustoms itself to bear with satisfaction, even when the loss does not double one's responsibilities; but in this case Mrs. Murray, as she grew old, saw her niece Esther about to come on her hands at the same time when a wild girl from the prairie was on the road to her very door, and she had no sufficient authority to control either of them. For a woman without children of her own, to act this part of matron to an extemporized girls' college might be praise-worthy, but could not bring repose of mind or body.

Mrs. Murray was still wider awake to this truth when she went the next day to the Grand Central Station to wait for the arrival of her Colorado orphan. The Chicago express glided in as gracefully and silently as though it were in quite the best society, and had run a thousand miles or so only for gentle exercise before dining at Delmonico's and passing an evening at the opera. Among the crowd of passengers who passed out were several women whose appearance gave Mrs. Murray a pang of fear, but at length she caught sight of one who pleased her fastidious eye. "I hope it is she," broke from her lips as the girl came towards her, and a moment later her hope was gratified. She drew a breath of relief that made her light-hearted. Whatever faults the girl might have, want of charm was not among them. As she raised her veil, the engine-stoker, leaning from his engine above them, nodded approval. In spite of dust and cinders, the fatigue and exposure of two thousand miles or so of travel, the girl was fresh as a summer morning, and her complexion was like the petals of a sweetbrier rose. Her dark blue woollen dress, evidently made by herself, soothed Mrs. Murray's anxieties more completely than though it had come by the last steamer from the best modiste in Paris.

"Is it possible you have come all the way alone?" she asked, looking about with lurking suspicion of possible lovers still to be revealed.

"Only from Chicago," answered Catherine; "I stopped awhile there to rest, but I had friends to take care of me."

"And you were not homesick or lonely?"

"No! I made friends on the cars. I have been taking care of a sick lady and her three children, who are all on their way to Europe, and wanted to pay my expenses if I would go with them."

"I don't wonder!" said Mrs. Murray with an unusual burst of sympathy.

No sooner had they fairly reached the house than Esther came to see the stranger and found her aunt in high spirits. "She is as natural and sweet as a flower," said Mrs. Murray. "To be sure she has a few Western tricks; she says she stopped awhile at Chicago, and that she has a raft of things in her trunks, and she asks häow, and says äout; but so do half the girls in New York, and I will break her of it in a week so that you will never know she was not educated in Boston and finished in Europe. I was terribly afraid she would wear a linen duster and water-waves."

Catherine became a favorite on the spot. No one could resist her hazel eyes and the curve of her neck, or her pure complexion which had the transparency of a Colorado sunrise. Her good nature was inexhaustible, and she occasionally developed a touch of sentiment which made Mr. Murray assert that she was the most dangerous coquette within his experience. Mr. Murray, who had a sound though uncultivated taste for pretty girls, succumbed to her charms, while George Strong, whose good nature was very like her own, never tired of drawing her out and enjoying her comments on the new life about her.

"What kind of a revolver do you carry?" asked George, gravely, at his first interview with her; "do you like yours heavy, or say a 32 ball?"

"Don't mind him, Catherine," said Mrs. Murray; "he is always making poor jokes."

"Oh, but I'm not strong enough to use heavy shooting-irons," replied Catherine quite seriously. "I had a couple of light ones in my room at home, but father told me I could never hurt any thing with them, and I never did."

"Always missed your man?" asked George.

"I never fired at a man but once. One night I took one of our herders for a thief and shot at him, but I missed, and just got laughed at for a week. That was before we moved down to Denver, where we don't use pistols much."

Strong felt a little doubt whether she was making fun of him or he of her, and she never left him in perfect security on this point.

"What is your name in Sioux, Catherine," he would ask; "Laughing Strawberry, I suppose, or Jumping Turtle?"

"No!" she answered. "I have a very pretty name in Sioux. They call me the Sage Hen, because I am so quiet. I like it much better than my own name."

Strong was beaten at this game. She capped all his questions for him with an air of such good faith as made him helpless. Whether it were real or assumed, he could not make up his mind. He took a great fancy to the Sage Hen, while she in her turn took a violent liking for Esther, as the extremest contrast to herself. When Esther realized that this product of Colorado was likely to be on her hands for several hours every day, she felt less amused than either Strong or Mr. Murray, for Miss Brooke's conversation, though entertaining as far as it went, had not the charm of variety. It was not long before her visits to Esther's studio became so frequent and so exhausting that Esther became desperate and felt that some relief must at any cost be found. The poor little prairie flower found New York at first exciting; she felt shy and awkward among the swarms of strange people to whose houses Mrs. Murray soon began to take her by way of breaking her in at once to the manners of New York society; and whenever she could escape, she fled to Esther and her quiet studio, with the feelings of a bird to its nest. The only drawback to her pleasure there was that she had nothing to do; her reading seemed to have been entirely in books of a severely moral caste, and in consequence she could not be induced to open so much as a magazine. She preferred to chatter about herself and the people she met. Before a week had passed Esther felt that something must be done to lighten this burden, and it was then that, as we shall see, Mr. Hazard suggested her using Catherine for a model. The idea might not have been so easily accepted under other circumstances, but it seemed for the moment a brilliant one.

As Wharton had said of Esther, she was but a second-rate amateur. Whether there was a living artist whom Wharton would have classed higher than a first-rate amateur is doubtful. On his scale to be second-rate was a fair showing. Esther had studied under good masters both abroad and at home. She had not the patience to be thorough, but who had? She asked this question of Mr. Wharton when he attacked her for bad drawing, and Wharton's answer left on her mind the impression that he was himself the only thorough artist in the world; yet others with whom she talked hinted much the same thing of themselves. Esther at all events painted many canvases and panels, good or bad, some of which had been exhibited and had even been sold, more perhaps owing to some trick of the imagination which she had put into them than to their technical merit. Yet into one work she had put her whole soul, and with success. This was a portrait of her father, which that severe critic liked well enough to hang on the wall of his library, and which was admitted to have merits even by Wharton, though he said that its unusual and rather masculine firmness of handling was due to the subject and could never be repeated.

Catherine was charmed to sit for her portrait. It was touching to see the superstitious reverence with which this prairie child kneeled before whatever she supposed to be learned or artistic. She took it for granted that Esther's painting was wonderful; her only difficulty was to understand how a man so trivial as George Strong, could be a serious professor, in a real university. She thought that Strong's taste for bric-à-brac was another of his jokes. He tried to educate her, and had almost succeeded when, in producing his last and most perfect bit of Japanese lacquer, he said: "This piece, Catherine, is too pure for man. We pray to it." Catherine sat as serious as eternity, but she believed in her heart that he was making fun of her.

In this atmosphere, to sit for her portrait was happiness, because it made her a part of her society. Esther was surprised to find what a difficult model she was, with liquid reflections of eyes, hair and skin that would have puzzled Correggio. Of course she was to be painted as the Sage Hen. George sent for sage brush, and got a stuffed sage hen, and photographs of sage-plains, to give Esther the local color for her picture.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 17:28 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 1

 

 

The new church of St. John's, on Fifth Avenue, was thronged the morning of the last Sunday of October, in the year 1880. Sitting in the gallery, beneath the unfinished frescoes, and looking down the nave, one caught an effect of autumn gardens, a suggestion of chrysanthemums and geraniums, or of October woods, dashed with scarlet oaks and yellow maples. As a display of austerity the show was a failure, but if cheerful content and innocent adornment please the Author of the lilies and roses, there was reason to hope that this first service at St. John's found favor in his sight, even though it showed no victory over the world or the flesh in this part of the United States. The sun came in through the figure of St. John in his crimson and green garments of glass, and scattered more color where colors already rivaled the flowers of a prize show; while huge prophets and evangelists in flowing robes looked down from the red walls on a display of human vanities that would have called out a vehement Lamentation of Jeremiah or Song of Solomon, had these poets been present in flesh as they were in figure.

Solomon was a brilliant but not an accurate observer; he looked at the world from the narrow stand-point of his own temple. Here in New York he could not have truthfully said that all was vanity, for even a more ill-natured satirist than he must have confessed that there was in this new temple to-day a perceptible interest in religion. One might almost have said that religion seemed to be a matter of concern. The audience wore a look of interest, and, even after their first gaze of admiration and whispered criticism at the splendors of their new church, when at length the clergyman entered to begin the service, a ripple of excitement swept across the field of bonnets until there was almost a murmur as of rustling cornfields within the many colored walls of St. John's.

In a remote pew, hidden under a gallery of the transept, two persons looked on with especial interest. The number of strangers who crowded in after them forced them to sit closely together, and their low whispers of comment were unheard by their neighbors. Before the service began they talked in a secular tone.

"Wharton's window is too high-toned," said the man.

"You all said it would be like Aladdin's," murmured the woman.

"Yes, but he throws away his jewels," rejoined the man. "See the big prophet over the arch; he looks as though he wanted to come down--and I think he ought."

"Did Michael Angelo ever take lessons of Mr. Wharton?" asked the woman seriously, looking up at the figures high above the pulpit.

"He was only a prophet," answered her companion, and, looking in another direction, next asked:

"Who is the angel of Paradise, in the dove-colored wings, sliding up the main aisle?"

"That! O, you know her! It is Miss Leonard. She is lovely, but she is only an angel of Paris."

"I never saw her before in my life," he replied; "but I know her bonnet was put on in the Lord's honor for the first time this morning."

"Women should take their bonnets off at the church door, as Mussulmen do their shoes," she answered.

"Don't turn Mahommedan, Esther. To be a Puritan is bad enough. The bonnets match the decorations."

"Pity the transepts are not finished!" she continued, gazing up at the bare scaffolding opposite.

"You are lucky to have any thing finished," he rejoined. "Since Hazard got here every thing is turned upside down; all the plans are changed. He and Wharton have taken the bit in their teeth, and the church committee have got to pay for whatever damage is done."

"Has Mr. Hazard voice enough to fill the church?" she asked.

"Watch him, and see how well he'll do it. Here he comes, and he will hit the right pitch on his first word."

The organ stopped, the clergyman appeared, and the talkers were silent until the litany ended and the organ began again. Under the prolonged rustle of settling for the sermon, more whispers passed.

"He is all eyes," murmured Esther; and it was true that at this distance the preacher seemed to be made up of two eyes and a voice, so slight and delicate was his frame. Very tall, slender and dark, his thin, long face gave so spiritual an expression to his figure that the great eyes seemed to penetrate like his clear voice to every soul within their range.

"Good art!" muttered her companion.

"We are too much behind the scenes," replied she.

"It is a stage, like any other," he rejoined; "there should be an entre-acte and drop-scene. Wharton could design one with a last judgment."

"He would put us into it, George, and we should be among the wicked."

"I am a martyr," answered George shortly.

The clergyman now mounted his pulpit and after a moment's pause said in his quietest manner and clearest voice:

"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

An almost imperceptible shiver passed through Esther's figure.

"Wait! he will slip in the humility later," muttered George.

On the contrary, the young preacher seemed bent on letting no trace of humility slip into his first sermon. Nothing could be simpler than his manner, which, if it had a fault, sinned rather on the side of plainness and monotony than of rhetoric, but he spoke with the air of one who had a message to deliver which he was more anxious to give as he received than to add any thing of his own; he meant to repeat it all without an attempt to soften it. He took possession of his flock with a general advertisement that he owned every sheep in it, white or black, and to show that there could be no doubt on the matter, he added a general claim to right of property in all mankind and the universe. He did this in the name and on behalf of the church universal, but there was self-assertion in the quiet air with which he pointed out the nature of his title, and then, after sweeping all human thought and will into his strong-box, shut down the lid with a sharp click, and bade his audience kneel.

The sermon dealt with the relations of religion to society. It began by claiming that all being and all thought rose by slow gradations to God,--ended in Him, for Him--existed only through Him and because of being His.

The form of act or thought mattered nothing. The hymns of David, the plays of Shakespeare, the metaphysics of Descartes, the crimes of Borgia, the virtues of Antonine, the atheism of yesterday and the materialism of to-day, were all emanations of divine thought, doing their appointed work. It was the duty of the church to deal with them all, not as though they existed through a power hostile to the deity, but as instruments of the deity to work out his unrevealed ends. The preacher then went on to criticise the attitude of religion towards science. "If there is still a feeling of hostility between them," he said, "it is no longer the fault of religion. There have been times when the church seemed afraid, but she is so no longer. Analyze, dissect, use your microscope or your spectrum till the last atom of matter is reached; reflect and refine till the last element of thought is made clear; the church now knows with the certainty of science what she once knew only by the certainty of faith, that you will find enthroned behind all thought and matter only one central idea,--that idea which the church has never ceased to embody,--I AM! Science like religion kneels before this mystery; it can carry itself back only to this simple consciousness of existence. I AM is the starting point and goal of metaphysics and logic, but the church alone has pointed out from the beginning that this starting-point is not human but divine. The philosopher says--I am, and the church scouts his philosophy. She answers:--No! you are NOT, you have no existence of your own. You were and are and ever will be only a part of the supreme I AM, of which the church is the emblem."

In this symbolic expression of his right of property in their souls and bodies, perhaps the preacher rose a little above the heads of his audience. Most of his flock were busied with a kind of speculation so foreign to that of metaphysics that they would have been puzzled to explain what was meant by Descartes' famous COGITO ERGO SUM, on which the preacher laid so much stress. They would have preferred to put the fact of their existence on almost any other experience in life, as that "I have five millions," or, "I am the best-dressed woman in the church,--therefore I am somebody." The fact of self-consciousness would not have struck them as warranting a claim even to a good social position, much less to a share in omnipotence; they knew the trait only as a sign of bad manners. Yet there were at least two persons among the glorified chrysanthemums of St. John's Garden this day, who as the sermon closed and the organ burst out again, glanced at each other with a smile as though they had enjoyed their lecture.

"Good!" said the man. "He takes hold."

"I hope he believes it all," said his companion.

"Yes, he has put his life into the idea," replied the man. "Even at college he would have sent us all off to the stake with a sweet smile, for the love of Christ and the glory of the English Episcopal Church."

The crowd soon began to pour slowly out of the building and the two observers were swept along with the rest until at length they found themselves outside, and strolled down the avenue. A voice from behind stopped them.

"Esther!" it called.

Esther turned and greeted the caller as aunt. She was a woman of about fifty, still rather handsome, but with features to which time had given an expression of character and will that harmonized only with a manner a little abrupt and decided. She had the air of a woman who knew her own mind and commonly had her own way.

"Well, Esther, I am glad to see you taking George to church. Has he behaved himself?"

"You are wrong again, Aunt Sarah," said George; "it is I who have been taking Esther to church. I thought it was worth seeing."

"Church is always worth seeing, George, and I hope your friend Mr. Hazard's sermon has done you good."

"It did me good to see Wharton there," answered George; "he looked as though it were a first representation, and he were in a stage box. Hazard and he ought to have appeared before the curtain, hand in hand, and made little speeches. I felt like calling them out."

"What did you think of it, Esther?" asked her aunt.

"I thought it very entertaining, Aunt Sarah. I felt like a butterfly in a tulip bed. Mr. Hazard's eyes are wonderful."

"I shall never get you two to be reverential," said her aunt sternly. "It was the best sermon I ever heard, and I would like to hear you answer it, George, and make your answer as little scientific as you can."

"Aunt Sarah, I never answered any one in my life, not even you, or Esther, or the man who said that my fossil bird was a crocodile. Why do you want me to answer him?"

"Because I don't believe you can."

"I can't. I am a professor of paleontology at the college, and I answer questions about bones. You must get my colleague who does the metaphysics to answer Hazard's sermon. Hazard and I have had it out fifty times, and discussed the whole subject till night reeled, but we never got within shouting distance of each other. He might as well have stood on the earth, and I on the nearest planet, and bawled across. So we have given it up."

"You mean that you were beaten," rejoined his aunt. "I am glad you feel it, though I always knew it was so. After all, Mr. Hazard has got more saints on his church walls than he will ever see in his audience, though not such pretty ones. I never saw so many lovely faces and dresses together. Esther, how is your father to-day?"

"Not very well, aunt. He wants to see you. Come home with us and help us to amuse him."

So talking, all three walked along the avenue to 42d Street, and turning down it, at length entered one of the houses about half way between the avenues. Up-stairs in a sunny room fitted up as a library and large enough to be handsome, they found the owner, William Dudley, a man of sixty or thereabouts, sitting in an arm-chair before the fire, trying to read a foreign review in which he took no interest. He moved with an appearance of effort, as though he were an invalid, but his voice was strong and his manner cheerful.

"I hoped you would all come. This is an awful moment. Tell me instantly, Sarah; is St. Stephen a success?"

"Immense! St. Stephen and St. Wharton too. The loveliest clergyman, the sweetest church, the highest-toned sermon and the lowest-toned walls," said she. "Even George owns that he has no criticisms to make."

"Aunt Sarah tells the loftiest truth, Uncle William," said the professor; "every Christian emblem about the church is superlatively correct, but paleontologically it is a fraud. Wharton and Hazard did the emblems, and I supplied them with antediluvian beasts which were all right when I drew them, but Wharton has played the devil with them, and I don't believe he knows the difference between a saurian and a crab. I could not recognize one of my own offspring."

"And how did it suit you, Esther?"

"I am charmed," replied his daughter. "Only it certainly does come just a little near being an opera-house. Mr. Hazard looks horribly like Meyerbeer's Prophet. He ordered us about in a fine tenor voice, with his eyes, and told us that we belonged to him, and if we did not behave ourselves he would blow up the church and us in it. I thought every moment we should see his mother come out of the front pews, and have a scene with him. If the organ had played the march, the effect would have been complete, but I felt there was something wanting."

"It was the sexton," said the professor; "he ought to have had a medieval costume. I must tell Wharton to-night to invent one for him. Hazard has asked me to come round to his rooms, because he thinks I am an unprejudiced observer and will tell him the exact truth. Now what am I to say?"

"Tell him," said the aunt, "that he looked like a Christian martyr defying the beasts in the amphitheater, and George, you are one of them. Between you and your Uncle William I wonder how Esther and I keep any religion at all."

"It is not enough to save you, Aunt Sarah," replied the professor. "You might just as well go with us, for if the Church is half right, you haven't a chance."

"Just now I must go with my husband, who is not much better than you," she replied. "He must have his luncheon, church or no church. Good-by."

So she departed, notifying Esther that the next day there was to be at her house a meeting of the executive committee of the children's hospital, which Esther must be careful to attend.

When she was out of the room the professor turned to his uncle and said: "Seriously, Uncle William, I wish you knew Stephen Hazard. He is a pleasant fellow in or out of the pulpit, and would amuse you. If you and Esther will come to tea some afternoon at my rooms, I will get Hazard and Wharton and Aunt Sarah there to meet you."

"Will he preach at me?" asked Mr. Dudley.

"Never in his life," replied the professor warmly. "He is the most rational, unaffected parson in the world. He likes fun as much as you or any other man, and is interested in every thing."

"I will come if Esther will let me," said Mr. Dudley. "What have you to say about it, Esther?"

"I don't think it would hurt you, father. George's building has an elevator."

"I didn't mean that, you watch-dog. I meant to ask whether you wanted to go to George's tea party?"

"I should like it of all things. Mr. Hazard won't hurt me, and I always like to meet Mr. Wharton."

"Then I will ask both of them this evening for some day next week or the week after, and will let you know," said George.

"Is he easily shocked?" asked Mr. Dudley. "Am I to do the old-school Puritan with him, or what?"

"Stephen Hazard," replied the professor, "is as much a man of the world as you or I. He is only thirty-five; we were at college together, took our degrees together, went abroad at the same time, and to the same German university. He had then more money than I, and traveled longer, went to the East, studied a little of every thing, lived some time in Paris, where he discovered Wharton, and at last some few years ago came home to take a church at Cincinnati, where he made himself a power. I thought he made a mistake in leaving there to come to St. John's, and wrote him so. I thought if he came here he would find that he had no regular community to deal with but just an Arab horde, and that it was nonsense to talk of saving the souls of New Yorkers who have no souls to be saved. But he thought it his duty to take the offer. Aunt Sarah hit it right when she called him a Christian martyr in the amphitheater. At college, we used to call him St. Stephen. He had this same idea that the church was every thing, and that every thing belonged to the church. When I told him that he was a common nuisance, and that I had to work for him like a church-warden, he laughed as though it were a joke, and seriously told me it was all right, and he didn't mind my skepticism at all. I know he was laughing at me this morning, when he made me go to church for the first time in ten years to hear that sermon which not twenty people there understood."

"One always has to pay for one's friend's hobbies," said Mr. Dudley. "I am glad he has had a success. If we keep a church we ought to do it in the best style. What will you give me for my pew?"

"I never sat in a worse," growled Strong.

"I'll not change it then," said Mr. Dudley. "I'll make Esther use it to mortify her pride."

"Better make it over to the poor of the parish," said the professor; "you will get no thanks for it even from them."

Mr. Dudley laughed as though it were no affair of his, and in fact he never sat in his pew, and never expected to do so; he had no taste for church-going. A lawyer in moderate practice, with active interest in public affairs, when the civil war broke out he took a commission as captain in a New York regiment, and, after distinguishing himself, was brought home, a colonel, with a bullet through his body and a saber cut across his head. He recovered his health, or as much of it as a man can expect to recover after such treatment, and went back to the law, but coming by inheritance into a property large enough to make him indifferent to his profession, and having an only child whose mother was long since dead, he amused the rest of his life by spoiling this girl. Esther was now twenty-five years old, and for fifteen years had been absolute mistress of her father's house. Her Aunt Sarah, known in New York as Mrs. John Murray of 53d Street, was the only person of whom she was a little--a very little--afraid. Of her Cousin George she was not in the least afraid, although George Strong spoke with authority in the world when he cared to speak at all. He was rich, and his professorship was little more to him than a way of spending money. He had no parents, and no relations besides the Dudleys and the Murrays. Alone in the world, George Strong looked upon himself as having in Esther a younger sister whom he liked, and a sort of older sister, whom he also liked, in his Aunt Sarah.

When, after lunching with the Dudleys, Professor Strong walked down Fifth Avenue to his club, he looked, to the thousand people whom he passed, like what he was, an intelligent man, with a figure made for action, an eye that hated rest, and a manner naturally sympathetic. His forehead was so bald as to give his face a look of strong character, which a dark beard rather helped to increase. He was a popular fellow, known as George by whole gangs of the roughest miners in Nevada, where he had worked for years as a practical geologist, and it would have been hard to find in America, Europe, or Asia, a city in which some one would not have smiled at the mention of his name, and asked where George was going to turn up next.

He kept his word that evening with his friend Hazard. At nine o'clock he was at the house, next door to St. John's church, where the new clergyman was trying to feel himself at home. In a large library, with book-cases to the ceiling, and books lying in piles on the floor; with pictures, engravings and etchings leaning against the books and the walls, and every sort of literary encumbrance scattered in the way of heedless feet; in the midst of confusion confounded, Mr. Hazard was stretched on a sofa trying to read, but worn out by fatigue and excitement. Though his chaos had not settled into order, it was easy to read his character from his surroundings. The books were not all divinity. There were classics of every kind, even to a collection of Eastern literature; a mass of poetry in all languages; not a few novels; and what was most conspicuous, an elaborate collection of illustrated works on art, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Medieval, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, and whatever else had come in his way. Add to this a shelf of music, and then--construct the tall, slender, large-eyed, thin-nosed, dark-haired figure lying exhausted on the sofa.

He rose to greet Strong with a laugh like a boy, and cried: "Well, skeptic, how do the heathen rage?"

"The heathen are all right," replied Strong. "The orthodox are the ragers."

"Never mind the orthodox," said Hazard. "I will look after them. Tell me about the Pagans. I felt like St. Paul preaching at Athens the God whom they ignorantly worshiped."

"I took with me the sternest little Pagan I know, my cousin, Esther Dudley," said Strong; "and the only question she asked was whether you believed it all."

"She hit the mark at the first shot," answered Hazard. "I must make them all ask that question. Tell me about your cousin. Who is she? Her name sounds familiar."

"As familiar as Hawthorne," replied Strong. "One of his tales is called after it. Her father comes from a branch of the old Puritan Dudleys, and took a fancy to the name when he met it in Hawthorne's story. You never heard of them before because you have been always away from New York, and when you were here they happened to be away. You know that half a dozen women run this city, and my aunt, Mrs. Murray, is one of the half-dozen. She is training Esther to take her place when she retires. I want you to know my Uncle Dudley and my cousin. I am going to have a little tea-party for them in my rooms, and you must help me with it."

Mr. Hazard asked only to have it put off until the week after the next because of his engagements, and hardly had they fixed the day when another caller appeared.

He was a man of their own age, so quiet and subdued in manner, and so delicate in feature, that he would have been unnoticed in any ordinary group, and shoved aside into a corner. He seemed to face life with an effort; his light-brown eyes had an uneasy look as though they wanted to rest on something that should be less hard and real than what they saw. He was not handsome; his mouth was a little sensual; his yellowish beard was ragged. He was apt to be silent until his shyness wore off, when he became a rapid, nervous talker, full of theories and schemes, which he changed from one day to another, but which were always quite complete and convincing for the moment. At times he had long fits of moodiness and would not open his mouth for days. At other times he sought society and sat up all night talking, planning, discussing, drinking, smoking, living on bread and cheese or whatever happened to be within reach, and sleeping whenever he happened to feel in the humor for it. Rule or method he had none, and his friends had for years given up the attempt to control him. They took it for granted that he would soon kill himself with his ill-regulated existence. Hazard thought that his lungs would give way, and Strong insisted that his brain was the weak spot, and no one ventured to hope that he would long hold out, but he lived on in defiance of them.

"Good evening, Wharton," said the clergyman. "I have been trying to find out from Strong what the heathen think of me. Tell us now the art view of the case. How are you satisfied?"

"Tell me what you were sketching in church," said Strong. "Was it not the new martyrdom of St. Stephen?"

"No," answered Wharton quietly. "It was my own. I found I could not look up; I knew how bad my own work was, and I could not stand seeing it; so I drew my own martyrdom rather than make a scandal by leaving the church."

"Did you hear my sermon?" asked the clergyman.

"I don't remember," answered Wharton vaguely; "what was it about?"

Strong and Hazard broke into a laugh which roused him to the energy of self-defense.

"I never could listen," he said. "It is a slow and stupid faculty. An artist's business is only to see, and to-day I could see nothing but my own things which are all bad. The whole church is bad. It is not altogether worth a bit of Japanese enamel that I have brought round here this evening to show Strong."

He searched first in one pocket, then in another, until he found what he wanted in the pocket of his overcoat, and a warm discussion at once began between him and Strong, who declared that he had a better piece.

"Mine was given me by a Daimio, in Kiusiu," said Strong. "It is the best old bit you ever saw. Come round to my rooms a week from to-morrow at five o'clock in the afternoon, and I will show you all my new japs. The Dudleys are coming to see them, and my aunt Mrs. Murray, and Hazard has promised to come."

"I saw you had Miss Dudley with you at church this morning," said Wharton, still absorbed in study of his enamel, and quite unconscious of his host's evident restlessness.

"Ah! then you could see Miss Dudley!" cried the clergyman, who could not forgive the abrupt dismissal of his own affairs by the two men, and was eager to bring the talk back to his church.

"I can always see Miss Dudley," said Wharton quietly.

"Why?" asked Hazard.

"She is interesting," replied the painter. "She has a style of her own, and I never can quite make up my mind whether to like it or not."

"It is the first time I ever knew you to hesitate before a style," said Hazard.

"I hesitate before every thing American," replied Wharton, beginning to show a shade of interest in what he was talking of. "I don't know--you don't know--and I never yet met any man who could tell me, whether American types are going to supplant the old ones, or whether they are to come to nothing for want of ideas. Miss Dudley is one of the most marked American types I ever saw."

"What are the signs of the most marked American type you ever saw?" asked Hazard.

"In the first place, she has a bad figure, which she makes answer for a good one. She is too slight, too thin; she looks fragile, willowy, as the cheap novels call it, as though you could break her in halves like a switch. She dresses to suit her figure and sometimes overdoes it. Her features are imperfect. Except her ears, her voice, and her eyes which have a sort of brown depth like a trout brook, she has no very good points."

"Then why do you hesitate?" asked Strong, who was not entirely pleased with this cool estimate of his cousin's person.

"There is the point where the subtlety comes in," replied the painter. "Miss Dudley interests me. I want to know what she can make of life. She gives one the idea of a lightly-sparred yacht in mid-ocean; unexpected; you ask yourself what the devil she is doing there. She sails gayly along, though there is no land in sight and plenty of rough weather coming. She never read a book, I believe, in her life. She tries to paint, but she is only a second rate amateur and will never be any thing more, though she has done one or two things which I give you my word I would like to have done myself. She picks up all she knows without an effort and knows nothing well, yet she seems to understand whatever is said. Her mind is as irregular as her face, and both have the same peculiarity. I notice that the lines of her eyebrows, nose and mouth all end with a slight upward curve like a yacht's sails, which gives a kind of hopefulness and self-confidence to her expression. Mind and face have the same curves."

"Is that your idea of our national type?" asked Strong. "Why don't you put it into one of your saints in the church, and show what you mean by American art?"

"I wish I could," said the artist. "I have passed weeks trying to catch it. The thing is too subtle, and it is not a grand type, like what we are used to in the academies. But besides the riddle, I like Miss Dudley for herself. The way she takes my brutal criticisms of her painting makes my heart bleed. I mean to go down on my knees one of these days, and confess to her that I know nothing about it; only if her style is right, my art is wrong."

"What sort of a world does this new deity of yours belong to?" asked the clergyman.

"Not to yours," replied Wharton quickly. "There is nothing medieval about her. If she belongs to any besides the present, it is to the next world which artists want to see, when paganism will come again and we can give a divinity to every waterfall. I tell you, Hazard, I am sick at heart about our church work; it is a failure. Never till this morning did I feel the whole truth, but the instant I got inside the doors it flashed upon me like St. Paul's great light. The thing does not belong to our time or feelings."

The conversation having thus come round to the subject which Mr. Hazard wanted to discuss, the three men plunged deep into serious talk which lasted till after midnight had struck from the neighboring church.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 13:29 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Conclusion

 

 

SYBIL TO CARRINGTON "May 1st, New York.

"My dear Mr. Carrington, "I promised to write you, and so, to keep my promise, and also because my sister wishes me to tell you about our plans, I send this letter. We have left Washington--for ever, I am afraid--and are going to Europe next month.

You must know that a fortnight ago, Lord Skye gave a great ball to the Grand-Duchess of something-or-other quite unspellable. I never can describe things, but it was all very fine. I wore a lovely new dress, and was a great success, I assure you. So was Madeleine, though she had to sit most of the evening by the Princess--such a dowdy! The Duke danced with me several times; he can't reverse, but that doesn't seem to matter in a Grand-Duke.

Well! things came to a crisis at the end of the evening. I followed your directions, and after we got home gave your letter to Madeleine. She says she has burned it. I don't know what happened afterwards--a tremendous scene, I suspect, but Victoria Dare writes me from Washington that every one is talking about M.'s refusal of Mr. R., and a dreadful thing that took place on our very doorstep between Mr. R. and Baron Jacobi, the day after the ball. She says there was a regular pitched battle, and the Baron struck him over the face with his cane. You know how afraid Madeleine was that they would do something of the sort in our parlour. I'm glad they waited till they were in the street. But isn't it shocking! They say the Baron is to be sent away, or recalled, or something. I like the old gentleman, and for his sake am glad duelling is gone out of fashion, though I don't much believe Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe could hit anything. The Baron passed through here three days ago on his summer trip to Europe. He left his card on us, but we were out, and did not see him. We are going over in July with the Schneidekoupons, and Mr. Schneidekoupon has promised to send his yacht to the Mediterranean, so that we shall sail about there after finishing the Nile, and see Jerusalem and Gibraltar and Constantinople. I think it will be perfectly lovely. I hate ruins, but I fancy you can buy delicious things in Constantinople. Of course, after what has happened, we can never go back to Washington. I shall miss our rides dreadfully. I read Mr. Browning's 'Last Ride Together,' as you told me; I think it's beautiful and perfectly easy, all but a little. I never could understand a word of him before--so I never tried. Who do you think is engaged? Victoria Dare, to a coronet and a peat-bog, with Lord Dunbeg attached. Victoria says she is happier than she ever was before in any of her other engagements, and she is sure this is the real one. She says she has thirty thousand a year derived from the poor of America, which may just as well go to relieve one of the poor in Ireland.

You know her father was a claim agent, or some such thing, and is said to have made his money by cheating his clients out of their claims. She is perfectly wild to be a countess, and means to make Castle Dunbeg lovely by-and-by, and entertain us all there. Madeleine says she is just the kind to be a great success in London. Madeleine is very well, and sends her kind regards. I believe she is going to add a postscript. I have promised to let her read this, but I don't think a chaperoned letter is much fun to write or receive. Hoping to hear from you soon, "Sincerely yours, "Sybil Ross."

Enclosed was a thin strip of paper containing another message from Sybil, privately inserted at the last moment unknown to Mrs. Lee--

"If I were in your place I would try again after she comes home."

Mrs. Lee's P.S. was very short--

"The bitterest part of all this horrid story is that nine out of ten of our countrymen would say I had made a mistake."

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 13:12 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 13

 

 

Not until afternoon did Mrs. Lee reappear. How much she had slept she did not say, and she hardly looked like one whose slumbers had been long or sweet; but if she had slept little, she had made up for the loss by thinking much, and, while she thought, the storm which had raged so fiercely in her breast, more and more subsided into calm. If there was not sunshine yet, there was at least stillness. As she lay, hour after hour, waiting for the sleep that did not come, she had at first the keen mortification of reflecting how easily she had been led by mere vanity into imagining that she could be of use in the world. She even smiled in her solitude at the picture she drew of herself, reforming Ratcliffe, and Krebs, and Schuyler Clinton. The ease with which Ratcliffe alone had twisted her about his finger, now that she saw it, made her writhe, and the thought of what he might have done, had she married him, and of the endless succession of moral somersaults she would have had to turn, chilled her with mortal terror. She had barely escaped being dragged under the wheels of the machine, and so coming to an untimely end. When she thought of this, she felt a mad passion to revenge herself on the whole race of politicians, with Ratcliffe at their head; she passed hours in framing bitter speeches to be made to his face.

Then as she grew calmer, Ratcliffe's sins took on a milder hue; life, after all, had not been entirely blackened by his arts; there was even some good in her experience, sharp though it were. Had she not come to Washington in search of men who cast a shadow, and was not Ratcliffe's shadow strong enough to satisfy her? Had she not penetrated the deepest recesses of politics, and learned how easily the mere possession of power could convert the shadow of a hobby-horse existing only in the brain of a foolish country farmer, into a lurid nightmare that convulsed the sleep of nations? The antics of Presidents and Senators had been amusing--so amusing that she had nearly been persuaded to take part in them. She had saved herself in time.

She had got to the bottom of this business of democratic government, and found out that it was nothing more than government of any other kind. She might have known it by her own common sense, but now that experience had proved it, she was glad to quit the masquerade; to return to the true democracy of life, her paupers and her prisons, her schools and her hospitals. As for Mr. Ratcliffe, she felt no difficulty in dealing with him.

Let Mr. Ratcliffe, and his brother giants, wander on their own political prairie, and hunt for offices, or other profitable game, as they would.

Their objects were not her objects, and to join their company was not her ambition. She was no longer very angry with Mr. Ratcliffe. She had no wish to insult him, or to quarrel with him. What he had done as a politician, he had done according to his own moral code, and it was not her business to judge him; to protect herself was the only right she claimed. She thought she could easily hold him at arm's length, and although, if Carrington had written the truth, they could never again be friends, there need be no difficulty in their remaining acquaintances. If this view of her duty was narrow, it was at least proof that she had learned something from Mr.

Ratcliffe; perhaps it was also proof that she had yet to learn Mr. Ratcliffe himself.

Two o'clock had struck before Mrs. Lee came down from her chamber, and Sybil had not yet made her appearance. Madeleine rang her bell and gave orders that, if Mr. Ratcliffe called she would see him, but she was at home to no one else. Then she sat down to write letters and to prepare for her journey to New York, for she must now hasten her departure in order to escape the gossip and criticism which she saw hanging like an avalanche over her head.

When Sybil at length came down, looking much fresher than her sister, they passed an hour together arranging this and other small matters, so that both of them were again in the best of spirits, and Sybil's face was wreathed in smiles.

A number of visitors came to the door that day, some of them prompted by friendliness and some by sheer curiosity, for Mrs. Lee's abrupt disappearance from the ball had excited remark. Against all these her door was firmly closed. On the other hand, as the afternoon went on, she sent Sybil away, so that she might have the field entirely to herself, and Sybil, relieved of all her alarms, sallied out to interrupt Dunbeg's latest interview with his Countess, and to amuse herself with Victoria's last "phase."

Towards four o'clock the tall form of Mr. Ratcliffe was seen to issue from the Treasury Department and to descend the broad steps of its western front.

Turning deliberately towards the Square, the Secretary of the Treasury crossed the Avenue and stopping at Mrs. Lee's door, rang the bell. He was immediately admitted. Mrs. Lee was alone in her parlour and rose rather gravely as he entered, but welcomed him as cordially as she could. She wanted to put an end to his hopes at once and to do it decisively, but without hurting his feelings.

"Mr. Ratcliffe," said she, when he was seated- "I am sure you will be better pleased by my speaking instantly and frankly. I could not reply to you last night. I will do so now without delay. What you wish is impossible. I would rather not even discuss it. Let us leave it here and return to our old relations."

She could not force herself to express any sense of gratitude for his affection, or of regret at being obliged to meet it with so little return.

To treat him with tolerable civility was all she thought required of her.

Ratcliffe felt the change of manner. He had been prepared for a struggle, but not to be met with so blunt a rebuff at the start. His look became serious and he hesitated a moment before speaking, but when he spoke at last, it was with a manner as firm and decided as that of Mrs. Lee herself.

"I cannot accept such an answer. I will not say that I have a right to explanation,--I have no rights which you are bound to respect,--but from you I conceive that I may at least ask the favour of one, and that you will not refuse it. Are you willing to tell me your reasons for this abrupt and harsh decision?"

"I do not dispute your right of explanation, Mr. Ratcliffe. You have the right, if you choose to use it, and I am ready to give you every explanation in my power; but I hope you will not insist on my doing so. If I seemed to speak abruptly and harshly, it was merely to spare you the greater annoyance of doubt. Since I am forced to give you pain, was it not fairer and more respectful to you to speak at once? We have been friends. I am very soon going away. I sincerely want to avoid saying or doing anything that would change our relations."

Ratcliffe, however, paid no attention to these words, and gave them no answer. He was much too old a debater to be misled by such trifles, when he needed all his faculties to pin his opponent to the wall. He asked:--

"Is your decision a new one?"

"It is a very old one, Mr. Ratcliffe, which I had let myself lose sight of, for a time. A night's reflection has brought me back to it."

"May I ask why you have returned to it? surely you would not have hesitated without strong reasons."

"I will tell you frankly. If, by appearing to hesitate, I have misled you, I am honestly sorry for it. I did not mean to do it. My hesitation was owing to the doubt whether my life might not really be best used in aiding you. My decision was owing to the certainty that we are not fitted for each other.

Our lives run in separate grooves. We are both too old to change them."

Ratcliffe shook his head with an air of relief. "Your reasons, Mrs. Lee, are not sound. There is no such divergence in our lives. On the contrary I can give to yours the field it needs, and that it can get in no other way; while you can give to mine everything it now wants. If these are your only reasons I am sure of being able to remove them."

Madeleine looked as though she were not altogether pleased at this idea, and became a little dogmatic. "It is no use our arguing on this subject, Mr.

Ratcliffe. You and I take very different views of life. I cannot accept yours, and you could not practise on mine."

"Show me," said Ratcliffe, "a single example of such a divergence, and I will accept your decision without another word."

Mrs. Lee hesitated and looked at him for an instant as though to be quite sure that he was in earnest. There was an effrontery about this challenge which surprised her, and if she did not check it on the spot, there was no saying how much trouble it might give her. Then unlocking the drawer of the writing-desk at her elbow, she took out Carrington's letter and handed it to Mr. Ratcliffe.

"Here is such an example which has come to my knowledge very lately. I meant to show it to you in any case, but I would rather have waited."

Ratcliffe took the letter which she handed to him, opened it deliberately, looked at the signature, and read. He showed no sign of surprise or disturbance. No one would have imagined that he had, from the moment he saw Carrington's name, as precise a knowledge of what was in this letter as though he had written it himself. His first sensation was only one of anger that his projects had miscarried. How this had happened he could not at once understand, for the idea that Sybil could have a hand in it did not occur to him. He had made up his mind that Sybil was a silly, frivolous girl, who counted for nothing in her sister's actions. He had fallen into the usual masculine blunder of mixing up smartness of intelligence with strength of character. Sybil, without being a metaphysician, willed anything which she willed at all with more energy than her sister did, who was worn out with the effort of life. Mr. Ratcliffe missed this point, and was left to wonder who it was that had crossed his path, and how Carrington had managed to be present and absent, to get a good office in Mexico and to baulk his schemes in Washington, at the same time. He had not given Carrington credit for so much cleverness.

He was violently irritated at the check. Another day, he thought, would have made him safe on this side; and possibly he was right. Had he once succeeded in getting ever so slight a hold on Mrs. Lee he would have told her this story with his own colouring, and from his own point of view, and he fully believed he could do this in such a way as to rouse her sympathy. Now that her mind was prejudiced, the task would be much more difficult; yet he did not despair, for it was his theory that Mrs. Lee, in the depths of her soul, wanted to be at the head of the White House as much as he wanted to be there himself, and that her apparent coyness was mere feminine indecision in the face of temptation. His thoughts now turned upon the best means of giving again the upper hand to her ambition. He wanted to drive Carrington a second time from the field.

Thus it was that, having read the letter once in order to learn what was in it, he turned back, and slowly read it again in order to gain time. Then he replaced it in its envelope, and returned it to Mrs. Lee, who, with equal calmness, as though her interest in it were at an end, tossed it negligently into the fire, where it was reduced to ashes under Ratcliffe's eyes.

He watched it burn for a moment, and then turning to her, said, with his usual composure, "I meant to have told you of that affair myself. I am sorry that Mr. Carrington has thought proper to forestall me. No doubt he has his own motives for taking my character in charge."

"Then it is true!" said Mrs. Lee, a little more quickly than she had meant to speak.

"True in its leading facts; untrue in some of its details, and in the impression it creates. During the Presidential election which took place eight years ago last autumn, there was, as you may remember, a violent contest and a very close vote. We believed (though I was not so prominent in the party then as now), that the result of that election would be almost as important to the nation as the result of the war itself. Our defeat meant that the government must pass into the blood-stained hands of rebels, men whose designs were more than doubtful, and who could not, even if their designs had been good, restrain the violence of their followers. In consequence we strained every nerve. Money was freely spent, even to an amount much in excess of our resources. How it was employed, I will not say.

I do not even know, for I held myself aloof from these details, which fell to the National Central Committee of which I was not a member. The great point was that a very large sum had been borrowed on pledged securities, and must be repaid. The members of the National Committee and certain senators held discussions on the subject, in which I shared. The end was that towards the close of the session the head of the committee, accompanied by two senators, came to me and told me that I must abandon my opposition to the Steamship Subsidy. They made no open avowal of their reasons, and I did not press for one. Their declaration, as the responsible heads of the organization, that certain action on my part was essential to the interests of the party, satisfied me. I did not consider myself at liberty to persist in a mere private opinion in regard to a measure about which I recognized the extreme likelihood of my being in error. I accordingly reported the bill, and voted for it, as did a large majority of the party. Mrs. Baker is mistaken in saying that the money was paid to me. If it was paid at all, of which I have no knowledge except from this letter, it was paid to the representative of the National Committee. I received no money. I had nothing to do with the money further than as I might draw my own conclusions in regard to the subsequent payment of the campaign debt."

Mrs. Lee listened to all this with intense interest. Not until this moment had she really felt as though she had got to the heart of politics, so that she could, like a physician with his stethoscope, measure the organic disease. Now at last she knew why the pulse beat with such unhealthy irregularity, and why men felt an anxiety which they could not or would not explain. Her interest in the disease overcame her disgust at the foulness of the revelation. To say that the discovery gave her actual pleasure would be doing her injustice; but the excitement of the moment swept away every other sensation. She did not even think of herself. Not until afterwards did she fairly grasp the absurdity of Ratcliffe's wish that in the face of such a story as this, she should still have vanity enough to undertake the reform of politics. And with his aid too! The audacity of the man would have seemed sublime if she had felt sure that he knew the difference between good and evil, between a lie and the truth; but the more she saw of him, the surer she was that his courage was mere moral paralysis, and that he talked about virtue and vice as a man who is colour-blind talks about red and green; he did not see them as she saw them; if left to choose for himself he would have nothing to guide him. Was it politics that had caused this atrophy of the moral senses by disuse? Meanwhile, here she sat face to face with a moral lunatic, who had not even enough sense of humour to see the absurdity of his own request, that she should go out to the shore of this ocean of corruption, and repeat the ancient rôle of King Canute, or Dame Partington with her mop and her pail. What was to be done with such an animal?

The bystander who looked on at this scene with a wider knowledge of facts, might have found entertainment in another view of the subject, that is to say, in the guilelessness ot Madeleine Lee. With all her warnings she was yet a mere baby-in-arms in the face of the great politician. She accepted his story as true, and she thought it as bad as possible; but had Mr.

Ratcliffe's associates now been present to hear his version of it, they would have looked at each other with a smile of professional pride, and would have roundly sworn that he was, beyond a doubt, the ablest man this country had ever produced, and next to certain of being President. They would not, however, have told their own side of the story if they could have helped it, but in talking it over among themselves they might have assumed the facts to have been nearly as follows: that Ratcliffe had dragged them into an enormous expenditure to carry his own State, and with it his own re-election to the Senate; that they had tried to hold him responsible, and he had tried to shirk the responsibility; that there had been warm discussions on the subject; that he himself had privately suggested recourse to Baker, had shaped his conduct accordingly, and had compelled them, in order to save their own credit, to receive the money.

Even if Mrs. Lee had heard this part of the story, though it might have sharpened her indignation against Mr. Ratcliffe, it would not have altered her opinions. As it was, she had heard enough, and with a great effort to control her expression of disgust, she sank back in her chair as Ratcliffe concluded. Finding that she did not speak, he went on:

"I do not undertake to defend this affair. It is the act of my public life which I most regret--not the doing, but the necessity of doing. I do not differ from you in opinion on that point. I cannot acknowledge that there is here any real divergence between us."

"I am afraid," said Mrs. Lee, "that I cannot agree with you."

This brief remark, the very brevity of which carried a barb of sarcasm, escaped from Madeleine's lips before she had fairly intended it. Ratcliffe felt the sting, and it started him from his studied calmness of manner.

Rising from his chair he stood on the hearthrug before Mrs. Lee, and broke out upon her with an oration in that old senatorial voice and style which was least calculated to enlist her sympathies:

"Mrs. Lee," said he, with harsh emphasis and dogmatic tone, "there are conflicting duties in all the transactions of life, except the simplest.

However we may act, do what we may, we must violate some moral obligation.

All that can be asked of us is that we should guide ourselves by what we think the highest. At the time this affair occurred, I was a Senator of the United States. I was also a trusted member of a great political party which I looked upon as identical with the nation. In both capacities I owed duties to my constituents, to the government, to the people. I might interpret these duties narrowly or broadly. I might say: Perish the government, perish the Union, perish this people, rather than that I should soil my hands! Or I might say, as I did, and as I would say again: Be my fate what it may, this glorious Union, the last hope of suffering humanity, shall be preserved."

Here he paused, and seeing that Mrs. Lee, after looking for a time at him, was now regarding the fire, lost in meditation over the strange vagaries of the senatorial mind, he resumed, in another line of argument. He rightly judged that there must be some moral defect in his last remarks, although he could not see it, which made persistence in that direction useless.

"You ought not to blame me--you cannot blame me justly. It is to your sense of justice I appeal. Have I ever concealed from you my opinions on this subject? Have I not on the contrary always avowed them? Did I not here, on this very spot, when challenged once before by this same Carrington, take credit for an act less defensible than this? Did I not tell you then that I had even violated the sanctity of a great popular election and reversed its result? That was my sole act! In comparison with it, this is a trifle! Who is injured by a steamship company subscribing one or ten hundred thousand dollars to a campaign fund? Whose rights are affected by it? Perhaps its stock holders receive one dollar a share in dividends less than they otherwise would. If they do not complain, who else can do so? But in that election I deprived a million people of rights which belonged to them as absolutely as their houses! You could not say that I had done wrong. Not a word of blame or criticism have you ever uttered to me on that account. If there was an offence, you condoned it! You certainly led me to suppose that you saw none. Why are you now so severe upon the smaller crime?"

This shot struck hard. Mrs. Lee visibly shrank under it, and lost her composure. This was the same reproach she had made against herself, and to which she had been able to find no reply. With some agitation she exclaimed:

"Mr. Ratcliffe, pray do me justice! I have tried not to be severe. I have said nothing in the way of attack or blame. I acknowledge that it is not my place to stand in judgment over your acts. I have more reason to blame myself than you, and God knows I have blamed myself bitterly." The tears stood in her eyes as she said these last words, and her voice trembled.

Ratcliffe saw that he had gained an advantage, and, sitting down nearer to her, he dropped his voice and urged his suit still more energetically:

"You did me justice then; why not do it now? You were convinced then that I did the best I could. I have always done so. On the other hand I have never pretended that all my acts could be justified by abstract morality. Where, then, is the divergence between us?"

Mrs. Lee did not undertake to answer this last argument: she only returned to her old ground. "Mr. Ratcliffe," she said, "I do not want to argue this question. I have no doubt that you can overcome me in argument. Perhaps on my side this is a matter of feeling rather than of reason, but the truth is only too evident to me that I am not fitted for politics. I should be a drag upon you. Let me be the judge of my own weakness! Do not insist upon pressing me, further!"

She was ashamed of herself for this appeal to a man whom she could not respect, as though she were a suppliant at his mercy, but she feared the reproach of having deceived him, and she tried pitiably to escape it.

Ratcliffe was only encouraged by her weakness.

"I must insist upon pressing it, Mrs. Lee," replied he, and he became yet more earnest as he went on; "my future is too deeply involved in your decision to allow of my accepting your answer as final. I need your aid.

There is nothing I will not do to obtain it. Do you require affection? mine for you is boundless. I am ready to prove it by a life of devotion. Do you doubt my sincerity? test it in whatever way you please. Do you fear being dragged down to the level of ordinary politicians? so far as concerns myself, my great wish is to have your help in purifying politics. What higher ambition can there be than to serve one's country for such an end?

Your sense of duty is too keen not to feel that the noblest objects which can inspire any woman, combine to point out your course."

Mrs. Lee was excessively uncomfortable, although not in the least shaken.

She began to see that she must take a stronger tone if she meant to bring this importunity to an end, and she answered:--

"I do not doubt your affection or your sincerity, Mr. Ratcliffe. It is myself I doubt. You have been kind enough to give me much of your confidence this winter, and if I do not yet know about politics all that is to be known, I have learned enough to prove that I could do nothing sillier than to suppose myself competent to reform anything. If I pretended to think so, I should be a mere worldly, ambitious woman, such as people think me. The idea of my purifying politics is absurd. I am sorry to speak so strongly, but I mean it. I do not cling very closely to life, and do not value my own very highly, but I will not tangle it in such a way; I will not share the profits of vice; I am not willing to be made a receiver of stolen goods, or to be put in a position where I am perpetually obliged to maintain that immorality is a virtue!"

As she went on she became more and more animated and her words took a sharper edge than she had intended. Ratcliffe felt it, and showed his annoyance. His face grew dark and his eyes looked out at her with their ugliest expression. He even opened his mouth for an angry retort, but controlled himself with an effort, and presently resumed his argument.

"I had hoped," he began more solemnly than ever, "that I should find in you a lofty courage which would disregard such risks. If all tme men and women were to take the tone you have taken, our government would soon perish. If you consent to share my career, I do not deny that you may find less satisfaction than I hope, but you will lead a mere death in life if you place yourself like a saint on a solitary column. I plead what I believe to be your own cause in pleading mine. Do not sacrifice your life!"

Mrs. Lee was in despair. She could not reply what was on her lips, that to marry a murderer or a thief was not a sure way of diminishing crime. She had already said something so much like this that she shrank from speaking more plainly. So she fell back on her old theme.

"We must at all events, Mr. Ratcliffe, use our judgments according to our own consciences. I can only repeat now what I said at first. I am sorry to seem insensible to your expressions towards me, but I cannot do what you wish. Let us maintain our old relations if you will, but do not press me further on this subject."

Ratcliffe grew more and more sombre as he became aware that defeat was staring him in the face. He was tenacious of purpose, and he had never in his life abandoned an object which he had so much at heart as this. He would not abandon it. For the moment, so completely had the fascination of Mrs.

Lee got the control of him, he would rather have abandoned the Presidency itself than her. He really loved her as earnestly as it was in his nature to love anything. To her obstinacy he would oppose an obstinacy greater still; but in the meanwhile his attack was disconcerted, and he was at a loss what next to do. Was it not possible to change his ground; to offer inducements that would appeal even more strongly to feminine ambition and love of display than the Presidency itself? He began again:--

"Is there no form of pledge I can give you? no sacrifice I can make? You dislike politics. Shall I leave political life? I will do anything rather than lose you. I can probably control the appointment of Minister to England. The President would rather have me there than here. Suppose I were to abandon politics and take the English mission. Would that sacrifice not affect you? You might pass four years in London where there would be no politics, and where your social position would be the best in the world; and this would lead to the Presidency almost as surely as the other." Then suddenly, seeing that he was making no headway, he threw off his studied calmness and broke out in an appeal of almost equally studied violence.

"Mrs. Lee! Madeleine! I cannot live without you. The sound of your voice--the touch of your hand--even the rustle of your dress--are like wine to me. For God's sake, do not throw me over!"

He meant to crush opposition by force. More and more vehement as he spoke he actually bent over and tried to seize her hand. She drew it back as though he were a reptile. She was exasperated by this obstinate disregard of her forbearance, this gross attempt to bribe her with office, this flagrant abandonment of even a pretence of public virtue; the mere thought of his touch on her person was more repulsive than a loathsome disease. Bent upon teaching him a lesson he would never forget, she spoke out abruptly, and with evident signs of contempt in her voice and manner:

"Mr. Ratcliffe, I am not to be bought. No rank, no dignity, no consideration, no conceivable expedient would induce me to change my mind.

Let us have no more of this!"

Ratcliffe had already been more than once, during this conversation, on the verge of losing his temper. Naturally dictatorial and violent, only long training and severe experience had taught him self-control, and when he gave way to passion his bursts of fury were still tremendous. Mrs. Lee's evident personal disgust, even more than her last sharp rebuke, passed the bounds of his patience. As he stood before her, even she, high-spirited as she was, and not in a calm frame of mind, felt a momentary shock at seeing how his face flushed, his eyes gleamed, and his hands trembled with rage.

"Ah!" exclaimed he, turning upon her with a harshness, almost a savageness, of manner that startled her still more; "I might have known what to expect!

Mrs. Clinton warned me early. She said then that I should find you a heartless coquette!"

"Mr. Ratcliffe!" exclaimed Madeleine, rising from her chair, and speaking in a warning voice almost as passionate as his own.

"A heartless coquette!" he repeated, still more harshly than before; "she said you would do just this! that you meant to deceive me! that you lived on flattery! that you could never be anything but a coquette, and that if you married me, I should repent it all my life. I believe her now!"

Mrs. Lee's temper, too, was naturally a high one. At this moment she, too, was flaming with anger, and wild with a passionate impulse to annihilate this man. Conscious that the mastery was in her own hands, she could the more easily control her voice, and with an expression of unutterable contempt she spoke her last words to him, words which had been ringing all day in her ears:

"Mr. Ratcliffe! I have listened to you with a great deal more patience and respect than you deserve. For one long hour I have degraded myself by discussing with you the question whether I should marry a man who by his own confession has betrayed the highest trusts that could be placed in him, who has taken money for his votes as a Senator, and who is now in public office by means of a successful fraud of his own, when in justice he should be in a State's prison. I will have no more of this. Understand, once for all, that there is an impassable gulf between your life and mine. I do not doubt that you will make yourself President, but whatever or wherever you are, never speak to me or recognize me again!"

He glared a moment into her face with a sort of blind rage, and seemed about to say more, when she swept past him, and before he realized it, he was alone.

Overmastered by passion, but conscious that he was powerless, Ratcliffe, after a moment's hesitation, left the room and the house. He let himself out, shutting the front door behind him, and as he stood on the pavement old Baron Jacobi, who had special reasons for wishing to know how Mrs. Lee had recovered from the fatigue and excitements of the ball, came up to the spot.

A single glance at Ratcliffe showed him that something had gone wrong in the career of that great man, whose fortunes he always followed with so bitter a sneer of contempt. Impelled by the spirit of evil always at his elbow, the Baron seized this moment to sound the depth of his friend's wound. They met at the door so closely that recognition was inevitable, and Jacobi, with his worst smile, held out his hand, saying at the same moment with diabolic malignity:

"I hope I may offer my felicitations to your Excellency!"

Ratcliffe was glad to find some victim on whom he could vent his rage. He had a long score of humiliations to repay this man, whose last insult was beyond all endurance. With an oath he dashed Jacobi's hand aside, and, grasping his shoulder, thrust him out of the path. The Baron, among whose weaknesses the want of high temper and personal courage was not recorded, had no mind to tolerate such an insult from such a man. Even while Ratcliffe's hand was still on his shoulder he had raised his cane, and before the Secretary saw what was coming, the old man had struck him with all his force full in the face. For a moment Ratcliffe staggered back and grew pale, but the shock sobered him. He hesitated a single instant whether to crush his assailant with a blow, but he felt that for one of his youth and strength, to attack an infirm diplomatist in a public street would be a fatal blunder, and while Jacobi stood, violently excited, with his cane raised ready to strike another blow, Mr. Ratcliffe suddenly turned his back and without a word, hastened away.

When Sybil returned, not long afterwards, she found no one in the parlour.

On going to her sister's room she discovered Madeleine lying on the couch, looking worn and pale, but with a slight smile and a peaceful expression on her face, as though she had done some act which her conscience approved. She called Sybil to her side, and, taking her hand, said:

"Sybil, dearest, will you go abroad with me again?"

"Of course I will," said Sybil; "I will go to the end of the world with you."

"I want to go to Egypt," said Madeleine, still smiling faintly; "democracy has shaken my nerves to pieces. Oh, what rest it would be to live in the Great Pyramid and look out for ever at the polar star!"

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 13:11 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 12

 

 

They drove home in silence, Mrs. Lee disturbed with anxieties and doubts, partly caused by her sister, partly by Mr. Ratcliffe; Sybil divided between amusement at Victoria's conquest, and alarm at her own boldness in meddling with her sister's affairs. Desperation, however, was stronger than fear. She made up her mind that further suspense was not to be endured; she would fight her baffle now before another hour was lost; surely no time could be better. A few moments brought them to their door. Mrs. Lee had told her maid not to wait for them, and they were alone. The fire was still alive on Madeleine's hearth, and she threw more wood upon it. Then she insisted that Sybil must go to bed at once. But Sybil refused; she felt quite well, she said, and not in the least sleepy; she had a great deal to talk about, and wanted to get it off her mind. Nevertheless, her feminine regard for the "Dawn in June" led her to postpone what she had to say until with Madeleine's help she had laid the triumph of the ball carefully aside; then, putting on her dressing-gown, and hastily plunging Carrington's letter into her breast, like a concealed weapon, she hurried back to Madeleine's room and established herself in a chair before the fire. There, after a moment's pause, the two women began their long-deferred trial of strength, in which the match was so nearly equal as to make the result doubtful; for, if Madeleine were much the cleverer, Sybil in this case knew much better what she wanted, and had a clear idea how she meant to gain it, while Madeleine, unsuspicious of attack, had no plan of defence at all.

"Madeleine," began Sybil, solemnly, and with a violent palpitation of the heart, "I want you to tell me something."

"What is it, my child?" said Mrs. Lee, puzzled, and yet half ready to see that there must be some connection between her sister's coming question and the sudden illness at the ball, which had disappeared as suddenly as it came.

"Do you mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"

Poor Mrs. Lee was quite disconcerted by the directness of the attack. This fatal question met her at every turn. Hardly had she succeeded in escaping trom it at the ball scarcely an hour ago, by a stroke of good fortune for which she now began to see she was indebted to Sybil, and here it was again presented to her face like a pistol. The whole town, then, was asking it.

Ratcliffe's offer must have been seen by half Washington, and her reply was awaited by an immense audience, as though she were a political returning-board. Her disgust was intense, and her first answer to Sybil was a quick inquiry:

"Why do you ask such a question? have you heard anything,--has anyone talked about it to you?"

"No!" replied Sybil; "but I must know; I can see for myself without being told, that Mr. Racliffe is trying to make you marry him. I don't ask out of curiosity; this is something that concerns me nearly as much as it does you yourself. Please tell me! don't treat me like a child any longer! let me know what you are thinking about! I am so tired of being left in the dark!

You have no idea how much this thing weighs on me. Oh, Maude, I shall never be happy again until you trust me about this."

Mrs. Lee felt a little pang of conscience, and seemed suddenly to become conscious of a new coil, tightening about her, in this wretched complication. Unable to see her way, ignorant of her sister's motives, urged on by the idea that Sybil's happiness was involved, she was now charged with want of feeling, and called upon for a direct answer to a plain question.

How could she aver that she did not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe? to say this would be to shut the door on all the objects she had at heart. If a direct answer must be given, it was better to say "Yes!" and have it over; better to leap blindly and see what came of it. Mrs. Lee, therefore, with an internal gasp, but with no visible sign of excitement, said, as though she were in a dream:

"Well, Sybil, I will tell you. I would have told you long ago if I had known myself. Yes! I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe!"

Sybil sprang to her feet with a cry: "And have you told him so?" she asked.

"No! you came and interrupted us just as we were speaking. I was glad you did come, for it gives me a little time to think. But I am decided now. I shall tell him to-morrow."

This was not said with the air or one wnose heart beat warmly at the thought of confessing her love. Mrs. Lee spoke mechanically, and almost with an effort. Sybil flung herself with all her energy upon her sister; violently excited, and eager to make herself heard, without waiting for arguments, she broke out into a torrent of entreaties: "Oh, don't, don't, don't! Oh, please, please, don't, my dearest, dearest Maude! unless you want to break my heart, don't marry that man! You can't love him! You can never be happy with him! he will take you away to Peonia, and you will die there! I shall never see you again! He will make you unhappy; he will beat you, I know he will! Oh, if you care for me at all, don't marry him! Send him away! don't see him again! let us go ourselves, now, in the morning train, before he comes back. I'm all ready; I'll pack everything for you; we'll go to Newport; to Europe--anywhere, to be out of his reach!"

With this passionate appeal, Sybil threw herself on her knees by her sister's side, and, clasping her arms around Madeleine's waist, sobbed as though her heart were already broken. Had Carrington seen her then he must have admitted that she had carried out his instructions to the letter. She was quite honest, too, in it all. She meant what she said, and her tears were real tears that had been pent up for weeks. Unluckily, her logic was feeble. Her idea of Mr. Ratcliffe's character was vague, and biased by mere theories of what a Prairie Giant of Peonia should be in his domestic relations. Her idea of Peonia, too, was indistinct. She was haunted by a vision of her sister, sitting on a horse-hair sofa before an air-tight iron stove in a small room with high, bare white walls, a chromolithograph on each, and at her side a marble-topped table surmounted by a glass vase containing funereal dried grasses; the only literature, Frank Leslie's periodical and the New York Ledger, with a strong smell of cooking everywhere prevalent. Here she saw Madeleine receiving visitors, the wives of neighbours and constituents, who told her the Peonia news.

Notwithstanding her ignorant and unreasonable prejudice against western men and women, western towns and prairies, and, in short, everything western, down to western politics and western politicians, whom she perversely asserted to be tue lowest ot all western products, there was still some common sense in Sybil's idea. When that inevitable hour struck for Mr.

Ratcliffe, which strikes sooner or later for all politicians, and an ungrateful country permitted him to pine among his friends in Illinois, what did he propose to do with his wife? Did he seriously suppose that she, who was bored to death by New York, and had been able to find no permanent pleasure in Europe, would live quietly in the romantic village of Peonia? If not, did Mr. Ratcliffe imagine that they could find happiness in the enjoyment of each other's society, and of Mrs. Lee's income, in the excitements of Washington? In the ardour of his pursuit, Mr. Ratcliffe had accepted in advance any conditions which Mrs. Lee might impose, but if he really imagined that happiness and content lay on the purple rim of this sunset, he had more confidence in women and in money than a wider experience was ever likely to justify.

Whatever might be Mr. Ratcliffe's schemes for dealing with these obstacles they could hardly be such as would satisfy Sybil, who, if inaccurate in her theories about Prairie Giants, yet understood women, and especially her sister, much better than Mr. Ratcliffe ever could do. Here she was safe, and it would have been better had she said no more, for Mrs. Lee, though staggered for a moment by her sister's vehemence, was reassured by what seemed the absurdity of her fears. Madeleine rebelled against this hysterical violence of opposition, and became more fixed in her decision.

She scolded her sister in good, set terms--

"Sybil, Sybil! you must not be so violent. Behave like a woman, and not like a spoiled child!"

Mrs. Lee, like most persons who have to deal with spoiled or unspoiled children, resorted to severity, not so much because it was the proper way of dealing with them, as because she knew not what else to do. She was thoroughly uncomfortable and weary. She was not satisfied with herself or with her own motives. Doubt encompassed her on all sides, and her worst opponent was that sister whose happiness had turned the scale against her own judgment.

Nevertheless her tactics answered their object of checking Sybil's vehemence. Her sobs came to an end, and she presently rose with a quieter air.

"Madeleine," said she, "do you really want to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"

"What else can I do, my dear Sybil? I want to do whatever is for the best. I thought you might be pleased."

"You thought I might be pleased?" cried Sybil in astonishment. "What a strange idea! If you had ever spoken to me about it I should have told you that I hate him, and can't understand how you can abide him. But I would rather marry him myself than see you marry him. I know that you will kill yourself with unhappiness when you have done it. Oh, Maude, please tell me that you won't!" And Sybil began gently sobbing again, while she caressed her sister.

Mrs. Lee was infinitely distressed. To act against the wishes of her nearest friends was hard enough, but to appear harsh and unfeeling to the one being whose happiness she had at heart, was intolerable. Yet no sensible woman, after saying that she meant to marry a man like Mr. Ratcliffe, could throw him over merely because another woman chose to behave like a spoiled child.

Sybil was more childish than Madeleine herself had supposed. She could not even see where her own interest lay. She knew no more about Mr. Ratcliffe and the West than if he were the giant of a fairy-story, and lived at the top of a bean-stalk. She must be treated as a child; with gentleness, affection, forbearance, but with firmness and decision. She must be refused what she asked, for her own good.

Thus it came about that at last Mrs. Lee spoke, with an appearance of decision far from representing her internal tremor.

"Sybil, dear, I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe because there is no other way of making every one happy. You need not be afraid of him. He is kind and generous. Besides, I can take care of myself; and I will take care of you too. Now let us not discuss it any more. It is broad daylight, and we are both tired out."

Sybil grew at once perfectly calm, and standing before her sister, as though their rôles were henceforward to be reversed, said:

"You have really made up your mind, then? Nothing I can say will change it?"

Mrs. Lee, looking at her with more surprise than ever, could not force herself to speak; but she shook her head slowly and decidedly.

"Then," said Sybil, "there is only one thing more I can do. You must read this!" and she drew out Carrington's letter, which she held before Madeleine's face.

"Not now, Sybil!" remonstrated Mrs. Lee, dreading another long struggle. "I will read it after we have had some rest. Go to bed now!"

"I do not leave this room, nor will I ever go to bed until you have read that letter," answered Sybil, seating herself again before the fire with the resolution of Queen Elizabeth; "not if I sit here till you are married. I promised Mr. Carrington that you should read it instantly; it's all I can do now." With a sigh, Mrs. Lee drew up the window-curtain, and in the gray morning light sat down to break the seal and read the following letter:--

"Washington, 2nd April.

"My dear Mrs. Lee, "This letter will only come into your hands in case there should be a necessity for your knowing its contents. Nothing short of necessity would excuse my writing it. I have to ask your pardon for intruding again upon your private affairs. In this case, if I did not intrude, you would have cause for serious complaint against me.

"You asked me the other day whether I knew anything against Mr. Ratcliffe which the world did not know, to account for my low opinion of his character. I evaded your question then. I was bound by professional rules not to disclose facts that came to me under a pledge of confidence. I am going to violate these rules now, only because I owe you a duty which seems to me to override all others.

"I do know facts in regard to Mr. Ratcliffe, which have seemed to me to warrant a very low opinion of his character, and to mark him as unfit to be, I will not say your husband, but even your acquaintance.

"You know that I am executor to Samuel Baker's will. You know who Samuel Baker was. You have seen his wife. She has told you herself that I assisted her in the examination and destruction of all her husband's private papers according to his special death-bed request. One of the first facts I learned from these papers and her explanations, was the following.

"Just eight years ago, the great 'Inter-Oceanic Mail Steamship Company,' wished to extend its service round the world, and, in order to do so, it applied to Congress for a heavy subsidy. The management of this affair was put into the hands of Mr. Baker, and all his private letters to the President of the Company, in press copies, as well as the President's replies, came into my possession. Baker's letters were, of course, written in a sort of cypher, several kinds of which he was in the habit of using. He left among his papers a key to this cypher, but Mrs. Baker could have explained it without that help.

"It appeared from this correspondence that the bill was carried successfully through the House, and, on reaching the Senate, was referred to the appropriate Committee. Its ultimate passage was very doubtful; the end of the session was close at hand; the Senate was very evenly divided, and the Chairman of the Committee was decidedly hostile.

"The Chairman of that Committee was Senator Ratcliffe, always mentioned by Mr. Baker in cypher, and with every precaution. If you care, however, to verify the fact, and to trace the history of the Subsidy Bill through all its stages, together with Mr. Ratcliffe's report, remarks, and votes upon it, you have only to look into the journals and debates for that year.

"At last Mr. Baker wrote that Senator Ratcliffe had put the bill in his pocket, and unless some means could be found of overcoming his opposition, there would be no report, and the bill would never come to a vote. All ordinary kinds of argument and influence had been employed upon him, and were exhausted. In this exigency Baker suggested that the Company should give him authority to see what money would do, but he added that it would be worse than useless to deal with small sums. Unless at least one hundred thousand dollars could be employed, it was better to leave the thing alone.

"The next mail authorized him to use any required amount of money not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Two days later he wrote that the bill was reported, and would pass the Senate within forty-eight hours; and he congratulated the Company on the fact that he had used only one hundred thousand dollars out of its last credit.

"The bill was actually reported, passed, and became law as he foretold, and the Company has enjoyed its subsidy ever since. Mrs. Baker also informed me that to her knowledge her husband gave the sum mentioned, in United States Coupon Bonds, to Senator Ratcliffe.

"This transaction, taken in connection with the tortuousness of his public course, explains the distrust I have always expressed for him. You will, however, understand that all these papers have been destroyed. Mrs. Baker could never be induced to hazard her own comfort by revealing the facts to the public. The officers of the Company in their own interests would never betray the transaction, and their books were undoubtedly so kept as to show no trace of it. If I made this charge against Mr. Ratcliffe, I should be the only sufferer. He would deny and laugh at it. I could prove nothing. I am therefore more directly interested than he is in keeping silence.

"In trusting this secret to you, I rely firmly upon your mentioning it to no one else--not even to your sister. You are at liberty, if you wish, to show this letter to one person only-- to Mr. Ratcliffe himself. That done, you will, I beg, burn it immediately.

"With the warmest good wishes, I am, "Ever most truly yours, "John Carrington."

When Mrs. Lee had finished reading this letter, she remained for some time quite silent, looking out into the square below. The morning had come, and the sky was bright with the fresh April sunlight. She threw open her window, and drew in the soft spring air. She needed all the purity and quiet that nature could give, for her whole soul was in revolt, wounded, mortified, exasperated. Against the sentiment of all her friends she had insisted upon believing in this man; she had wrought herself up to the point of accepting him for her husband; a man who, if law were the same thing as justice, ought to be in a felon's cell; a man who could take money to betray his trust. Her anger at first swept away all bounds. She was impatient for the moment when she should see him again, and tear off his mask. For once she would express all the loathing she felt for the whole pack of political hounds. She would see whether the animal was made like other beings; whether he had a sense of honour; a single clean spot in his mind.

Then it occurred to her that after all there might be a mistake; perhaps Mr.

Ratcliffe could explain the charge away. But this thought only laid bare another smarting wound in her pride. Not only did she believe the charge, but she believed that Mr. Ratcliffe would defend his act. She had been willing to marry a man whom she thought capable of such a crime, and now she shuddered at the idea that this charge might have been brought against her husband, and that she could not dismiss it with instant incredulity, with indignant contempt. How had this happened? how had she got into so foul a complication? When she left New York, she had meant to be a mere spectator in Washington. Had it entered her head that she could be drawn into any project of a second marriage, she never would have come at all, for she was proud of her loyalty to her husband's memory, and second marriages were her abhorrence. In her restlessness and solitude, she had forgotten this; she had only asked whether any life was worth living for a woman who had neither husband nor children. Was the family all that life had to offer? could she find no interest outside the household? And so, led by this will-of-the-wisp, she had, with her eyes open, walked into the quagmire of politics, in spite of remonstrance, in spite of conscience.

She rose and paced the room, while Sybil lay on the couch, watching her with eyes half shut. She grew more and more angry with herself, and as her self-reproach increased, her anger against Ratcliffe faded away. She had no right to be angry with Ratcliffe. He had never deceived her. He had always openly enough avowed that he knew no code of morals in politics; that if virtue did not answer his purpose he used vice. How could she blame him for acts which he had repeatedly defended in her presence and with her tacit assent, on principles that warranted this or any other villainy?

The worst was that this discovery had come on her as a blow, not as a reprieve from execution. At this thought she became furious with herself.

She had not known the recesses of her own heart. She had honestly supposed that Sybil's interests and Sybil's happiness were forcing her to an act of self-sacrifice; and now she saw that in the depths of her soul very different motives had been at work: ambition, thirst for power, restless eagerness to meddle in what did not concern her, blind longing to escape from the torture of watching other women with full lives and satisfied instincts, while her own life was hungry and sad. For a time she had actually, unconscious as she was of the delusion, hugged a hope that a new field of usefulness was open to her; that great opportunities for doing good were to supply the aching emptiness of that good which had been taken away; and that here at last was an object for which there would be almost a pleasure in squandering the rest of existence even if she knew in advance that the experiment would fail. Life was emptier than ever now that this dream was over. Yet the worst was not in that disappointment, but in the discovery of her own weakness and self-deception.

Worn out by long-continued anxiety, excitement and sleeplessness, she was unfit to struggle with the creatures of her own imagination. Such a strain could only end in a nervous crisis, and at length it came:

"Oh, what a vile thing life is!" she cried, throwing up her arms with a gesture of helpless rage and despair. "Oh, how I wish I were dead! how I wish the universe were annihilated!" and she flung herself down by Sybil's side in a frenzy of tears.

Sybil, who had watched all this exhibition in silence, waited quietly for the excitement to pass. There was little to say. She could only soothe.

After the paroxysm had exhausted itself Madeleine lay quiet for a time, until other thoughts began to disturb her. From reproaching herself about Ratcliffe she went on to reproach herself about Sybil, who really looked worn and pale, as though almost overcome by fatigue.

"Sybil," said she, "you must go to bed at once. You are tired out. It was very wrong in me to let you sit up so late. Go now, and get some sleep."

"I am not going to bed till you do, Maude!" replied Sybil, with quiet obstinacy.

"Go, dear! it is all settled. I shall not marry Mr. Ratcliffe. You need not be anxious about it any more."

"Are you very unhappy?"

"Only very angry with myself. I ought to have taken Mr. Carrington's advice sooner."

"Oh, Maude!" exclaimed Sybil, with a sudden explosion of energy; "I wish you had taken him!"

This remark roused Mrs. Lee to new interest: "Why, Sybil," said she, "surely you are not in earnest?"

"Indeed, I am," replied Sybil, very decidedly. "I know you think I am in love with Mr. Carrington myself, but I'm not. I would a great deal rather have him for a brother-in-law, and he is so much the nicest man you know, and you could help his sisters."

Mrs. Lee hesitated a moment, for she was not quite certain whether it was wise to probe a healing wound, but she was anxious to clear this last weight from her mind, and she dashed recklessly forward:

"Are you sure you are telling the truth, Sybil? Why, then, did you say that you cared for him? and why have you been so miserable ever since he went away?"

"Why? I should think it was plain enough why! Because I thought, as every one else did, that you were going to marry Mr. Ratcliffe; and because if you married Mr. Ratcliffe, I must go and live alone; and because you treated me like a child, and never took me into your confidence at all; and because Mr.

Carrington was the only person I had to advise me, and after he went away, I was left all alone to fight Mr. Ratcliffe and you both together, without a human soul to help me in case I made a mistake. You would have been a great deal more miserable than I if you had been in my place."

Madeleine looked at her for a moment in doubt. Would this last? did Sybil herself know the depth of her own wound? But what could Mrs. Lee do now?

Perhaps Sybil did deceive herself a little. When this excitement had passed away, perhaps Carrington's image might recur to her mind a little too often for her own comfort. The future must take care of itself. Mrs. Lee drew her sister closer to her, and said: "Sybil, I have made a horrible mistake, and you must forgive me."

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 13:6 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 11

 

 

In the middle of April a sudden social excitement started the indolent city of Washington to its feet. The Grand-Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Baden-Hombourg arrived in America on a tour of pleasure, and in due course came on to pay their respects to the Chief Magistrate of the Union. The newspapers hastened to inform their readers that the Grand-Duchess was a royal princess of England, and, in the want of any other social event, every one who had any sense of what was due to his or her own dignity, hastened to show this august couple the respect which all republicans who have a large income derived from business, feel for English royalty. New York gave a dinner, at which the most insignificant person present was worth at least a million dollars, and where the gentlemen who sat by the Princess entertained her for an hour or two by a calculation of the aggregate capital represented. New York also gave a ball at which the Princess appeared in an ill-fitting black silk dress with mock lace and jet ornaments, among several hundred toilets that proclaimed the refined republican simplicity of their owners at a cost of various hundred thousand dollars. After these hospitalities the Grand-ducal pair came on to Washington, where they became guests of Lord Skye, or, more properly, Lord Skye became their guest, for he seemed to consider that he handed the Legation over to them, and he told Mrs. Lee, with true British bluntness of speech, that they were a great bore and he wished they had stayed in Saxe-Baden-Hombourg, or wherever they belonged, but as they were here, he must be their lackey. Mrs. Lee was amused and a little astonished at the candour with which he talked about them, and she was instructed and improved by his dry account of the Princess, who, it seemed, made herself disagreeable by her airs of royalty; who had suffered dreadfully from the voyage; and who detested America and everything American; but who was, not without some show of reason, jealous of her husband, and endured endless sufferings, though with a very bad grace, rather than lose sight of him.

Not only was Lord Skye obliged to turn the Legation into an hotel, but in the full enthusiasm of his loyalty he felt himself called upon to give a ball. It was, he said, the easiest way of paying off all his debts at once, and if the Princess was good for nothing else, she could be utilized as a show by way of "promoting the harmony of the two great nations." In other words, Lord Skye meant to exhibit the Princess for his own diplomatic benefit, and he did so. One would have thought that at this season, when Congress had adjourned, Washington would hardly have afforded society enough to fill a ball-room, but this, instead of being a drawback, was an advantage. It permitted the British Minister to issue invitations without limit. He asked not only the President and his Cabinet, and the judges, and the army, and the navy, and all the residents of Washington who had any claim to consideration, but also all the senators, all the representatives in Congress, all the governors of States with their staffs, if they had any, all eminent citizens and their families throughout the Union and Canada, and finally every private individual, from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama, who had ever shown him a civility or was able to control interest enough to ask for a card. The result was that Baltimore promised to come in a body, and Philadelphia was equally well-disposed; New York provided several scores of guests, and Boston sent the governor and a delegation; even the well-known millionaire who represented California in the United States Senate was irritated because, his invitation having been timed to arrive just one day too late, he was prevented from bringing his family across the continent with a choice party in a director's car, to enjoy the smiles of royalty in the halls of the British lion. It is astonishing what efforts freemen will make in a just cause.

Lord Skye himself treated the whole affair with easy contempt. One afternoon he strolled into Mrs. Lee's parlour and begged her to give him a cup of tea.

He said he had got rid of his menagerie for a few hours by shunting it off upon the German Legation, and he was by way of wanting a little human society. Sybil, who was a great favourite with him, entreated to be told all about the ball, but he insisted that he knew no more than she did. A man from New York had taken possession of the Legation, but what he would do with it was not within the foresight of the wisest; trom the talk of the young members of his Legation, Lord Skye gathered that the entire city was to be roofed in and forty millions of people expected, but his own concern in the affair was limited to the flowers he hoped to receive.

"All young and beautiful women," said he to Sybil, "are to send me flowers.

I prefer Jacqueminot roses, but will accept any handsome variety, provided they are not wired. It is diplomatic etiquette that each lady who sends me flowers shall reserve at least one dance for me. You will please inscribe this at once upon your tablets, Miss Ross."

To Madeleine this ball was a godsend, for it came just in time to divert Sybil's mind from its troubles. A week had now passed since that revelation of Sybil's heart which had come like an earthquake upon Mrs. Lee. Since then Sybil had been nervous and irritable, all the more because she was conscious of being watched. She was in secret ashamed of her own conduct, and inclined to be angry with Carrington, as though he were responsible for her foolishness; but she could not talk with Madeleine on the subject without discussing Mr. Ratcliffe, and Carrington had expressly forbidden her to attack Mr. Ratcliffe until it was clear that Ratcliffe had laid himself open to attack. This reticence deceived poor Mrs. Lee, who saw in her sister's moods only that unrequited attachment for which she held herself solely to blame. Her gross negligence in allowing Sybil to be improperly exposed to such a risk weighed heavily on her mind. With a saint's capacity for self-torment, Madeleine wielded the scourge over her own back until the blood came. She saw the roses rapidly fading from Sybil's cheeks, and by the help of an active imagination she discovered a hectic look and symptoms of a cough. She became fairly morbid on the subject, and fretted herself into a fever, upon which Sybil sent, on her own responsibility, for the medical man, and Madeleine was obliged to dose herself with quinine. In fact, there was much more reason for anxiety about her than for her anxiety about Sybil, who, barring a little youthful nervousness in the face of responsibility, was as healthy and comfortable a young woman as could be shown in America, and whose sentiment never cost her five minutes' sleep, although her appetite may have become a shade more exacting than before. Madeleine was quick to notice this, and surprised her cook by making daily and almost hourly demands for new and impossible dishes, which she exhausted a library of cookery-books to discover.

Lord Skye's ball and Sybil's interest in it were a great relief to Madeleine's mind, and she now turned her whole soul to frivolity. Never, since she was seventeen, had she thought or talked so much about a ball, as now about this ball to the Grand-Duchess. She wore out her own brain in the effort to amuse Sybil. She took her to call on the Princess; she would have taken her to call on the Grand Lama had he come to Washington. She instigated her to order and send to Lord Skye a mass of the handsomest roses New York could afford. She set her at work on her dress several days before there was any occasion for it, and this famous costume had to be taken out, examined, criticised, and discussed with unending interest. She talked about the dress, and the Princess, and the ball, till her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and her brain refused to act. From morning till night, for one entire week, she ate, drank, breathed, and dreamt of the ball. Everything that love could suggest or labour carry out, she did, to amuse and occupy her sister.

She knew that all this was only temporary and palliative, and that more radical measures must be taken to secure Sybil's happiness. On this subject she thought in secret until both head and heart ached. One thing and one thing only was clear: if Sybil loved Carrington, she should have him. How Madeleine expected to bring about this change of heart in Carrington, was known only to herself. She regarded men as creatures made for women to dispose of, and capable of being transferred like checks, or baggage-labels, from one woman to another, as desired. The only condition was that he should first be completely disabused of the notion that he could dispose of himself. Mrs. Lee never doubted that she could make Carrington fall in love with Sybil provided she could place herself beyond his reach. At all events, come what might, even though she had to accept the desperate alternative offered by Mr. Ratcliffe, nothing should be allowed to interfere with Sybil's happiness. And thus it was, that, for the first time, Mrs. Lee began to ask herself whether it was not better to find the solution of her perplexities in marriage.

Would she ever have been brought to this point without the violent pressure of her sister's supposed interests? This is one of those questions which wise men will not ask, because it is one which the wisest man or woman cannot answer. Upon this theme, an army of ingenious authors have exhausted their ingenuity in entertaining the public, and their works are to be found at every book-stall. They have decided that any woman will, under the right conditions, marry any man at any time, provided her "higher nature" is properly appealed to. Only with regret can a writer forbear to moralize on this subject. "Beauty and the Beast," "Bluebeard," "Auld Robin Gray," have the double charm to authors of being very pleasant to read, and still easier to dilute with sentiment. But at least ten thousand modern writers, with Lord Macaulay at their head, have so ravaged and despoiled the region of fairy-stories and fables, that an allusion even to the "Arabian Nights" is no longer decent. The capacity of women to make unsuitable marriages must be considered as the corner-stone of society.

Meanwhile the ball had, in truth, very nearly driven all thought of Carrington out of Sybil's mind. The city filled again. The streets swarmed with fashionable young men and women from the provinces of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, who gave Sybil abundance of occupation. She received bulletins of the progress of affairs. The President and his wife had consented to be present, out of their high respect for Her Majesty the Queen and their desire to see and to be seen. All the Cabinet would accompany the Chief Magistrate. The diplomatic corps would appear in uniform; so, too, the officers of the army and navy; the Governor-General of Canada was coming, with a staff. Lord Skye remarked that the Governor-General was a flat.

The day of the ball was a day of anxiety to Sybil, although not on account of Mr. Ratcliffe or of Mr. Carrington, who were of trifling consequence compared with the serious problem now before her. The responsibility of dressing both her sister and herself fell upon Sybil, who was the real author of all Mrs. Lee's millinery triumphs when they now occurred, except that Madeleine managed to put character into whatever she wore, which Sybil repudiated on her own account. On this day Sybil had reasons for special excitement. All winter two new dresses, one especially a triumph of Mr.

Worth's art, had lain in state upstairs, and Sybil had waited in vain for an occasion that should warrant the splendour of these garments.

One afternoon in early June of the preceding summer, Mr. Worth had received a letter on the part of the reigning favourite of the King of Dahomey, directing him to create for her a ball-dress that should annihilate and utterly destroy with jealousy and despair the hearts of her seventy-five rivals; she was young and beautiful; expense was not a consideration. Such were the words of her chamberlain. All that night, the great genius of the nineteenth century tossed wakefully on his bed revolving the problem in his mind. Visions of flesh-coloured tints shot with blood-red perturbed his brain, but he fought against and dismissed them; that combination would be commonplace in Dahomey. When the first rays of sunlight showed him the reflection of his careworn face in the plate-glass mirrored ceiling, he rose and, with an impulse of despair, flung open the casements. There before his blood-shot eyes lay the pure, still, new-born, radiant June morning. With a cry of inspiration the great man leaned out of the casement and rapidly caught the details of his new conception. Before ten o'clock he was again at his bureau in Paris. An imperious order brought to his private room every silk, satin, and gauze within the range of pale pink, pale crocus, pale green, silver and azure. Then came chromatic scales of colour; combinations meant to vulgarise the rainbow; sinfonies and fugues; the twittering of birds and the great peace of dewy nature; maidenhood in her awakening innocence; "The Dawn in June." The Master rested content.

A week later came an order from Sybil, including "an entirely original ball-dress,--unlike any other sent to America." Mr. Worth pondered, hesitated; recalled Sybil's figure; the original pose of her head; glanced anxiously at the map, and speculated whether the New York Herald had a special correspondent at Dahomey; and at last, with a generosity peculiar to great souls, he duplicated for "Miss S. Ross, New York, U.S. America," the order for "L'Aube, Mois de Juin."

The Schneidekoupons and Mr. French, who had reappeared in Washington, came to dine with Mrs. Lee on the evening of the ball, and Julia Schneidekoupon sought in vain to discover what Sybil was going to wear. "Be happy, my dear, in your ignorance!" said Sybil; "the pangs of envy will rankle soon enough."

An hour later her room, except the fireplace, where a wood fire was gently smouldering, became an altar of sacrifice to the Deity of Dawn in June. Her bed, her low couch, her little tables, her chintz arm-chairs, were covered with portions of the divinity, down to slippers and handkerchief, gloves and bunches of fresh roses. When at length, after a long effort, the work was complete, Mrs. Lee took a last critical look at the result, and enjoyed a glow of satisfaction. Young, happy, sparkling with consciousness of youth and beauty, Sybil stood, Hebe Anadyomene, rising from the foam of soft creplisse which swept back beneath the long train of pale, tender, pink silk, fainting into breadths of delicate primrose, relieved here and there by facings of June green--or was it the blue of early morning? --or both?

suggesting unutterable freshness. A modest hint from her maid that "the girls," as women-servants call each other in American households, would like to offer their share of incense at the shrine, was amiably met, and they were allowed a glimpse of the divinity before she was enveloped in wraps. An admiring group, huddled in the doorway, murmured approval, from the leading "girl," who was the cook, a coloured widow of some sixty winters, whose admiration was irrepressible, down to a New England spinster whose Anabaptist conscience wrestled with her instincts, and who, although disapproving of "French folks," paid in her heart that secret homage to their gowns and bonnets which her sterner lips refused. The applause of this audience has, from generation to generation, cheered the hearts of myriads of young women starting out on their little adventures, while the domestic laurels flourish green and fresh for one half hour, until they wither at the threshold of the ball-room.

Mrs. Lee toiled long and earnestly over her sister's toilet, for had not she herself in her own day been the best-dressed girl in New York?--at least, she held that opinion, and her old instincts came to life again whenever Sybil was to be prepared for any great occasion. Madeleine kissed her sister affectionately, and gave her unusual praise when the "Dawn in June" was complete. Sybil was at this moment the ideal of blooming youth, and Mrs. Lee almost dared to hope that her heart was not permanently broken, and that she might yet survive until Carrington could be brought back. Her own toilet was a much shorter affair, but Sybil was impatient long before it was concluded; the carriage was waiting, and she was obliged to disappoint her household by coming down enveloped in her long opera-cloak, and hurrying away.

When at length the sisters entered the reception-room at the British Legation, Lord Skye rebuked them for not having come early to receive with him. His Lordship, with a huge riband across his breast, and a star on his coat, condescended to express himself vigorously on the subject of the "Dawn in June." Schneidekoupon, who was proud of his easy use of the latest artistic jargon, looked with respect at Mrs. Lee's silver-gray satin and its Venetian lace, the arrangement of which had been conscientiously stolen from a picture in the Louvre, and he murmured audibly, "Nocturne in silver-gray!"--then, turning to Sybil--"and you? Of course! I see! A song without words!" Mr. French came up and, in his most fascinating tones, exclaimed, "Why, Mrs. Lee, you look real handsome to-night!" Jacobi, after a close scrutiny, said that he took the liberty of an old man in telling them that they were both dressed absolutely without fault. Even the Grand-Duke was struck by Sybil, and made Lord Skye introduce him, after which ceremony he terrified her by asking the pleasure of a waltz. She disappeared from Madeleine's view, not to be brought back again until Dawn met dawn.

The ball was, as the newspapers declared, a brilliant success. Every one who knows the city of Washington will recollect that, among some scores of magnificent residences which our own and foreign governments have built for the comfort of cabinet officers, judges, diplomatists, vice-presidents, speakers, and senators, the British Legation is by far the most impressive.

Combining in one harmonious whole the proportions of the Pitti Palace with the decoration of the Casa d'Oro and the dome of an Eastern Mosque, this architectural triumph offers extraordinary resources for society. Further description is unnecessary, since anyone may easily refer back to the New York newspapers of the following morning, where accurate plans of the house on the ground floor, will be found; while the illustrated newspapers of the same week contain excellent sketches of the most pleasing scenic effects, as well as of the ball-room and of the Princess smiling graciously from her throne. The lady just behind the Princess on her left, is Mrs. Lee, a poor likeness, but easily distinguishable from the fact that the artist, for his own objects, has made her rather shorter, and the Princess rather taller, than was strictly correct, just as he has given the Princess a gracious smile, which was quite different from her actual expression. In short, the artist is compelled to exhibit the world rather as we would wish it to be, than as it was or is, or, indeed, is like shortly to become. The strangest part of his picture is, however, the fact that he actually did see Mrs. Lee where he has put her, at the Princess's elbow, which was almost the last place in the room where any one who knew Mrs. Lee would have looked for her.

The explanation of this curious accident shall be given immediately, since the facts are not mentioned in the public reports of the ball, which only said that, "close behind her Royal Highness the Grand-Duchess, stood our charming and aristocratic countrywoman, Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, who has made so great a sensation in Washington this winter, and whose name public rumour has connected with that of the Secretary of the Treasury. To her the Princess appeared to address most of her conversation."

The show was a very pretty one, and on a pleasant April evening there were many places less agreeable to be in than this. Much ground outside had been roofed over, to make a ball-room, large as an opera-house, with a daïs and a sofa in the centre of one long side, and another daïs with a second sofa immediately opposite to it in the centre of the other long side. Each daïs had a canopy of red velvet, one bearing the Lion and the Unicorn, the other the American Eagle. The Royal Standard was displayed above the Unicorn; the Stars-and-Stripes, not quite so effectively, waved above the Eagle. The Princess, being no longer quite a child, found gas trying to her complexion, and compelled Lord Skye to illuminate her beauty by one hundred thousand wax candies, more or less, which were arranged to be becoming about the Grand-ducal throne, and to be showy and unbecoming about the opposite institution across the way.

The exact facts were these. It had happened that the Grand-Duchess, having been necessarily brought into contact with the President, and particularly with his wife, during the past week, had conceived for the latter an antipathy hardly to be expressed in words. Her fixed determination was at any cost to keep the Presidential party at a distance, and it was only after a stormy scene that the Grand-Duke and Lord Skye succeeded in extorting her consent that the President should take her to supper. Further than this she would not go. She would not speak to "that woman," as she called the President's wife, nor be in her neighbourhood. She would rather stay in her own room all the evening, and she did not care in the least what the Queen would think of it, for she was no subject of the Queen's. The case was a hard one for Lord Skye, who was perplexed to know, from this point of view, why he was entertaining the Princess at all; but, with the help of the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg, who was very active and smiled deprecation with some success, he found a way out of it; and this was the reason why there were two thrones in the ball-room, and why the British throne was lighted with such careful reference to the Princess's complexion. Lord Skye immolated himself in the usual effort of British and American Ministers, to keep the two great powers apart. He and the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg acted as buffers with watchful diligence, dexterity, and success. As one resource, Lord Skye had bethought himself of Mrs. Lee, and he told the Princess the story of Mrs. Lee's relations with the President's wife, a story which was no secret in Washington, for, apart from Madeleine's own account, society was left in no doubt of the light in which Mrs. Lee was regarded by the mistress of the White House, whom Washington ladles were now in the habit of drawing out on the subject of Mrs. Lee, and who always rose to the bait with fresh vivacity, to the amusement and delight of Victoria Dare and other mischief-makers.

"She will not trouble you so long as you can keep Mrs. Lee in your neighbourhood," said Lord Skye, and the Princess accordingly seized upon Mrs. Lee and brandished her, as though she were a charm against the evil eye, in the face of the President's party. She made Mrs. Lee take a place just behind her as though she were a lady-in-waiting. She even graciously permitted her to sit down, so near that their chairs touched. Whenever "that woman" was within sight, which was most of the time, the Princess directed her conversation entirely to Mrs. Lee and took care to make it evident. Even before the Presidential party had arrived, Madeleine had fallen into the Princess's grasp, and when the Princess went forward to receive the President and his wife, which she did with a bow of stately and distant dignity, she dragged Madeleine closely by her side. Mrs. Lee bowed too; she could not well help it; but was cut dead for her pains, with a glare of contempt and hatred. Lord Skye, who was acting as cavalier to the President's wife, was panic-stricken, and hastened to march his democratic potentate away, under pretence of showing her the decorations. He placed her at last on her own throne, where he and the Grand-Duke relieved each other in standing guard at intervals throughout the evening. When the Princess followed with the President, she compelled her husband to take Mrs. Lee on his arm and conduct her to the British throne, with no other object than to exasperate the President's wife, who, from her elevated platform, looked down upon the cortège with a scowl.

In all this affair Mrs. Lee was the principal sufferer. No one could relieve her, and she was literally penned in as she sat. The Princess kept up an incessant fire of small conversation, principally complaint and fault-finding, which no one dared to interrupt. Mrs. Lee was painfully bored, and after a time even the absurdity of the thing ceased to amuse her.

She had, too, the ill-luck to make one or two remarks which appealed to some hidden sense of humour in the Princess, who laughed and, in the style of royal personages, gave her to understand that she would like more amusement of the same sort. Of all things in life, Mrs. Lee held this kind of court-service in contempt, for she was something more than republican--a little communistic at heart, and her only serious complaint of the President and his wife was that they undertook to have a court and to ape monarchy.

She had no notion of admitting social superiority in any one, President or Prince, and to be suddenly converted into a lady-in-waiting to a small German Grand-Duchess, was a terrible blow. But what was to be done? Lord Skye had drafted her into the service and she could not decently refuse to help him when he came to her side and told her, with his usual calm directness, what his difficulties were, and how he counted upon her to help him out.

The same play went on at supper, where there was a royal-presidential table, which held about two dozen guests, and the two great ladies presiding, as far apart as they could be placed. The Grand-Duke and Lord Skye, on either side of the President's wife, did their duty like men, and were rewarded by receiving from her much information about the domestic arrangements of the White House. The President, however, who sat next the Princess at the opposite end, was evidently depressed, owing partly to the fact that the Princess, in defiance of all etiquette, had compelled Lord Dunbeg to take Mrs. Lee to supper and to place her directly next the President. Madeleine tried to escape, but was stopped by the Princess, who addressed her across the President and in a decided tone asked her to sit precisely there. Mrs.

Lee looked timidly at her neighbour, who made no sign, but ate his supper in silence only broken by an occasional reply to a rare remark. Mrs. Lee pitied him, and wondered what his wife would say when they reached home. She caught Ratcliffe's eye down the table, watching her with a smile; she tried to talk fluently with Dunbeg; but not until supper was long over and two o'clock was at hand; not until the Presidential party, under all the proper formalities, had taken their leave of the Grand-ducal party; not until Lord Skye had escorted them to their carriage and returned to say that they were gone, did the Princess loose her hold upon Mrs. Lee and allow her to slip away into obscurity.

Meanwhile the ball had gone on after the manner of balls. As Madeleine sat in her enforced grandeur she could watch all that passed. She had seen Sybil whirling about with one man after another, amid a swarm of dancers, enjoying herself to the utmost and occasionally giving a nod and a smile to her sister as their eyes met. There, too, was Victoria Dare, who never appeared flurried even when waltzing with Lord Dunbeg, whose education as a dancer had been neglected. The fact was now fully recognized that Victoria was carrying on a systematic flirtation with Dunbeg, and had undertaken as her latest duty the task of teaching him to waltz. His struggles and her calmness in assisting them commanded respect. On the opposite side of the room, by the republican throne, Mrs. Lee had watched Mr. Ratcliffe standing by the President, who appeared unwilling to let him out of arm's length and who seemed to make to him most of his few remarks. Schneidekoupon and his sister were mixed in the throng, dancing as though England had never countenanced the heresy of free-trade. On the whole, Mrs. Lee was satisfied.

If her own sufferings were great, they were not without reward. She studied all the women in the ball-room, and if there was one prettier than Sybil, Madeleine's eyes could not discover her. If there was a more perfect dress, Madeleine knew nothing of dressing. On these points she felt the confidence of conviction. Her calm would have been complete, had she felt quite sure that none of Sybil's gaiety was superficial and that it would not be followed by reaction. She watched nervously to see whether her face changed its gay expression, and once she thought it became depressed, but this was when the Grand-Duke came up to claim his waltz, and the look rapidly passed away when they got upon the floor and his Highness began to wheel round the room with a precision and momentum that would have done honour to a regiment of Life Guards. He seemed pleased with his experiment, for he was seen again and again careering over the floor with Sybil until Mrs. Lee herself became nervous, for the Princess frowned.

After her release Madeleine lingered awhile in the ball-room to speak with her sister and to receive congratulations. For half an hour she was a greater belle than Sybil. A crowd of men clustered about her, amused at the part she had played in the evening's entertainment and full of compliments upon her promotion at Court. Lord Skye himself found time to offer her his thanks in a more serious tone than he generally affected. "You have suffered much," said he, "and I am grateful." Madeleine laughed as she answered that her sufferings had seemed nothing to her while she watched his. But at last she became weary of the noise and glare of the ball-room, and, accepting the arm of her excellent friend Count Popoff, she strolled with him back to the house. There at last she sat down on a sofa in a quiet window-recess where the light was less strong and where a convenient laurel spread its leaves in front so as to make a bower through which she could see the passers-by without being seen by them except with an effort. Had she been a younger woman, this would have been the spot for a flirtation, but Mrs. Lee never flirted, and the idea of her flirting with Popoff would have seemed ludicrous to all mankind.

He did not sit down, but was leaning against the angle of the wall, talking with her, when suddenly Mr. Ratcliffe appeared and took the seat by her side with such deliberation and apparent sense of property that Popoff incontinently turned and fled. No one knew where the Secretary came from, or how he learned that she was there. He made no explanation and she took care to ask for none. She gave him a highly-coloured account of her evening's service as lady-in-waiting, which he matched by that of his own trials as gentleman-usher to the President, who, it seemed, had clung desperately to his old enemy in the absence of any other rock to clutch at.

Ratcliffe looked the character of Prime Minister sufficiently well at this moment. He would have held his own, at a pinch, in any Court, not merely in Europe but in India or China, where dignity is still expected of gentlemen.

Excepting for a certain coarse and animal expression about the mouth, and an indefinable coldness in the eye, he was a handsome man and still in his prime. Every one remarked how much he was improved since entering the Cabinet. He had dropped his senatorial manner. His clothes were no longer congressional, but those of a respectable man, neat and decent. His shirts no longer protruded in the wrong places, nor were his shirt-collars frayed or soiled. His hair did not stray over his eyes, ears, and coat, like that of a Scotch terrier, but had got itself cut. Having overheard Mrs. Lee express on one occasion her opinion of people who did not take a cold bath every morning, he had thought it best to adopt this reform, although he would not have had it generally known, tot it savoured ot caste. He made an effort not to be dictatorial and to forget that he had been the Prairie Giant, the bully of the Senate. In short, what with Mrs. Lee's influence and what with his emancipation from the Senate chamber with its code of bad manners and worse morals, Mr. Ratcliffe was fast becoming a respectable member of society whom a man who had never been in prison or in politics might safely acknowledge as a friend.

Mr. Ratcliffe was now evidently bent upon being heard. After charting for a time with some humour on the President's successes as a man of fashion, he changed the subject to the merits of the President as a statesman, and little by little as he spoke he became serious and his voice sank into low and confidential tones. He plainly said that the President's incapacity had now become notorious among his followers; that it was only with difficulty his Cabinet and friends could prevent him from making a fool of himself fifty times a day; that all the party leaders who had occasion to deal with him were so thoroughly disgusted that the Cabinet had to pass its time in trying to pacify them; while this state of things lasted, Ratcliffe's own influence must be paramount; he had good reason to know that if the Presidential election were to take place this year, nothing could prevent his nomination and election; even at three years' distance the chances in his favour were at least two to one; and after this exordium he went on in a low tone with increasing earnestness, while Mrs. Lee sat motionless as the statue of Agrippina, her eyes fixed on the ground:

"I am not one of those who are happy in political life. I am a politician because I cannot help myself; it is the trade I am fittest for, and ambition is my resource to make it tolerable. In politics we cannot keep our hands clean. I have done many things in my political career that are not defensible. To act with entire honesty and self-respect, one should always live in a pure atmosphere, and the atmosphere of politics is impure.

Domestic life is the salvation of many public men, but I have for many years been deprived of it. I have now come to that point where increasing responsibilities and temptations make me require help. I must have it. You alone can give it to me. You are kind, thoughtful, conscientious, high-minded, cultivated, fitted better than any woman I ever saw, for public duties. Your place is there. You belong among those who exercise an influence beyond their time. I only ask you to take the place which is yours."

This desperate appeal to Mrs. Lee's ambition was a calculated part of Ratcliffe's scheme. He was well aware that he had marked high game, and that in proportion to this height must be the power of his lure. Nor was he embarrassed because Mrs. Lee sat still and pale with her eyes fixed on the ground and her hands twisted together in her lap. The eagle that soars highest must be longer in descending to the ground than the sparrow or the partridge. Mrs. Lee had a thousand things to think about in this brief time, and yet she found that she could not think at all; a succession of mere images and fragments of thought passed rapidly over her mind, and her will exercised no control upon their order or their nature. One of these fleeting reflections was that in all the offers of marriage she had ever heard, this was the most unsentimental and businesslike. As for his appeal to her ambition, it fell quite dead upon her ear, but a woman must be more than a heroine who can listen to flattery so evidently sincere, from a man who is pre-eminent among men, without being affected by it. To her, however, the great and overpowering fact was that she found herself unable to retreat or escape; her tactics were disconcerted, her temporary barriers beaten down.

The offer was made. What should she do with it?

She had thought for months on this subject without being able to form a decision; what hope was there that she should be able to decide now, in a ball-room, at a minute's notice? When, as occasionally happens, the conflicting sentiments, prejudices, and passions of a lifetime are compressed into a single instant, they sometimes overcharge the mind and it refuses to work. Mrs. Lee sat still and let things take their course; a dangerous expedient, as thousands of women have learned, for it leaves them at the mercy of the strong will, bent upon mastery.

The music from the ball-room did not stop. Crowds of persons passed by their retreat. Some glanced in, and not one of these felt a doubt what was going on there. An unmistakeable atmosphere of mystery and intensity surrounded tfle pair. Ratcliffe's eyes were fixed upon Mrs. Lee, and hers on the ground. Neither seemed to speak or to stir. Old Baron Jacobi, who never failed to see everything, saw this as he went by, and ejaculated a foreign oath of frightful import. Victoria Dare saw it and was devoured by curiosity to such a point as to be hardly capable of containing herself.

After a silence which seemed interminable, Ratcliffe went on: "I do not speak of my own feelings because I know that unless compelled by a strong sense of duty, you will not be decided by any devotion of mine. But I honestly say that I have learned to depend on you to a degree I can hardly express; and when I think of what I should be without you, life seems to me so intolerably dark that I am ready to make any sacrifice, to accept any conditions that will keep you by my side."

Meanwhile Victoria Dare, although deeply interested in what Dunbeg was telling her, had met Sybil and had stopped a single second to whisper in her ear: "You had better look after your sister, in the window, behind the laurel with Mr. Ratcliffe!" Sybil was on Lord Skye's arm, enjoying herself amazingly, though the night was far gone, but when she caught Victoria's words, the expression of her face wholly changed. All the anxieties and terrors of the last fortnight, came back upon it. She dragged Lord Skye across the hall and looked in upon her sister. One glance was enough.

Desperately frightened but afraid to hesitate, she went directly up to Madeleine who was still sitting like a statue, listening to Ratcliffe's last words. As she hurriedly entered, Mrs. Lee, looking up, caught sight of her pale face, and started from her seat.

"Are you ill, Sybil?" she exclaimed; "is anything the matter?"

"A little--fatigued," gasped Sybil; "I thought you might be ready to go home."

"I am," cried Madeleine; "I am quite ready. Good evening, Mr. Ratcliffe. I will see you to-morrow. Lord Skye, shall I take leave of the Princess?"

"The Princess retired half an hour ago," replied Lord Skye, who saw the situation and was quite ready to help Sybil; "let me take you to the dressing-room and order your carriage." Mr. Ratcliffe found himself suddenly left alone, while Mrs. Lee hurried away, torn by fresh anxieties. They had reached the dressing-room and were nearly ready to go home, when Victora Dare suddenly dashed in upon them, with an animation of manner very unusual in her, and, seizing Sybil by the hand, drew her into an adjoining room and shut the door. "Can you keep a secret?" said she abruptly.

"What!" said Sybil, looking at her with open-mouthed interest; "you don't mean--are you really--tell me, quick!"

"Yes!" said Victoria relapsing into composure; "I am engaged!"

"To Lord Dunbeg?"

Victoria nodded, and Sybil, whose nerves were strung to the highest pitch by excitement, flattery, fatigue, perplexity, and terror, burst into a paroxysm of laughter, that startled even the calm Miss Dare.

"Poor Lord Dunbeg! don't be hard on him, Victoria!" she gasped when at last she found breath; "do you really mean to pass the rest of your life in Ireland? Oh, how much you will teach them!"

"You forget, my dear," said Victoria, who had placidly enthroned herself on the foot of a bed, "that I am not a pauper. I am told that Dunbeg Castle is a romantic summer residence, and in the dull season we shall of course go to London or somewhere. I shall be civil to you when you come over. Don't you think a coronet will look well on me?"

Sybil burst again into laughter so irrepressible and prolonged that it puzzled even poor Dunbeg, who was impatiently pacing the corridor outside.

It alarmed Madeleine, who suddenly opened the door. Sybil recovered herself, and, her eyes streaming with tears, presented Victoria to her sister:

"Madeleine, allow me to introduce you to the Countess Dunbeg!"

But Mrs. Lee was much too anxious to feel any interest in Lady Dunbeg. A sudden fear struck her that Sybil was going into hysterics because Victoria's engagement recalled her own disappointment. She hurried her sister away to the carriage.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 13:4 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 10

 

 

The next morning Carrington called at the Department and announced his acceptance of the post. He was told that his instructions would be ready in about a fortnight, and that he would be expected to start as soon as he received them; in the meanwhile, he must devote himself to the study of a mass of papers in the Department. There was no trifling allowable here.

Carrington had to set himself vigorously to work. This did not, however, prevent him from keeping his appointment with Sybil, and at four o'clock they started together, passing out into the quiet shadows of Rock Creek, and seeking still lanes through the woods where their horses walked side by side, and they themselves could talk without the risk of criticism from curious eyes. It was the afternoon of one of those sultry and lowering spring days when life germinates rapidly, but as yet gives no sign, except perhaps some new leaf or flower pushing its soft head up against the dead leaves that have sheltered it. The two riders had something of the same sensation, as though the leafless woods and the laurel thickets, the warm, moist air and the low clouds, were a protection and a soft shelter. Somewhat to Carrington's surprise, he found that it was pleasant to have Sybil's company. He felt towards her as to a sister--a favourite sister.

She at once attacked him for abandoning her and breaking his treaty so lately made, and he tried to gain her sympathy by saying that if she knew how much he was troubled, she would forgive him. Then when Sybil asked whether he really must go and leave her without any friend whom she could speak to, his feelings got the better of him: he could not resist the temptation to confide all his troubles in her, since there was no one else in whom he could confide. He told her plainly that he was in love with her sister.

"You say that love is nonsense, Miss Ross. I tell you it is no such thing.

For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on one's nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any one instant, but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength. It is a disease to be borne with patience, like any other nervous complaint, and to be treated with counter-irritants. My trip to Mexico will be good for it, but that is not the reason why I must go."

Then he told her all his private circumstances; the ruin which the war had brought on him and his family; how, of his two brothers, one had survived the war only to die at home, a mere wreck of disease, privation, and wounds; the other had been shot by his side, and bled slowly to death in his arms during the awful carnage in the Wilderness; how his mother and two sisters were struggling for a bare subsistence on a wretched Virginian farm, and how all his exertions barely kept them from beggary.

"You have no conception of the poverty to which our southern women are reduced since the war," said he; "they are many of them literally without clothes or bread." The fee he should earn by going to Mexico would double his income this year. Could he refuse? Had he a right to refuse? And poor Carrington added, with a groan, that if he alone were in question, he would sooner be shot than go.

Sybil listened with tears in her eyes. She never before had seen a man show suffering. The misery she had known in life had been more or less veiled to her and softened by falling on older and friendly shoulders. She now got for the first time a clear view of Carrington, apart from the quiet exterior in which the man was hidden. She felt quite sure, by a sudden flash of feminine inspiration, that the curious look of patient endurance on his face was the work of a single night when he had held his brother in his arms, and knew that the blood was draining drop by drop from his side, in the dense, tangled woods, beyond the reach of help, hour after hour, till the voice failed and the limbs grew stiff and cold. When he had finished his story, she was afraid to speak. She did not know how to show her sympathy, and she could not bear to seem unsympathetic. In her embarrassment she fairly broke down and could only dry her eyes in silence.

Having once got this weight of confidence off his mind, Carrington felt comparatively gay and was ready to make the best of things. He laughed at himself to drive away the tears of his pretty companion, and obliged her to take a solemn pledge never to betray him. "Of course your sister knows it all," he said; "but she must never know that I told you, and I never would tell any one but you."

Sybil promised faithfully to keep his confidence to herself, and she went on to defend her sister.

"You must not blame Madeleine," said she; "if you knew as well as I do what she has been through, you would not think her cold. You do know how suddenly her husband died, after only one day's illness, and what a nice fellow he was. She was very fond of him, and his death seemed to stun her. We hardly knew what to make of it, she was so quiet and natural. Then just a week later her little child died of diphtheria, suffering horribly, and she wild with despair because she could not relieve it. After that, she was almost insane; indeed, I have always thought she was quite insane for a time. I know she was excessively violent and wanted to kill herself, and I never heard any one rave as she did about religion and resignation and God. After a few weeks she became quiet and stupid and went about like a machine; and at last she got over it, but has never been what she was before. You know she was a rather fast New York girl before she married, and cared no more about politics and philanthropy than I do. It was a very late thing, all this stuff. But she is not really hard, though she may seem so. It is all on the surface. I always know when she is thinking about her husband or child, because her face gets rigid; she looks then as she used to look after her child died, as though she didn't care what became of her and she would just as lieve kill herself as not. I don't think she will ever let herself love any one again. She has a horror of it. She is much more likely to go in for ambition, or duty, or self-sacrifice."

They rode on for a while in silence, Carrington perplexed by the problem how two harmless people such as Madeleine and he could have been made by a beneficent Providence the sport of such cruel tortures; and Sybil equally interested in thinking what sort of a brother-in-law Carrington would make; on the whole, she thought she liked him better as he was. The silence was only broken by Carrington's bringing the conversation back to its starting-point: "Something must be done to keep your sister out of Ratcliffe's power. I have thought about it till I am tired. Can you make no suggestion?"

No! Sybil was helpless and dreadfully alarmed. Mr. Ratcliffe came to the house as often as he could, and seemed to tell Madeleine everything that was going on in politics, and ask her advice, and Madeleine did not discourage him. "I do believe she likes it, and thinks she can do some good by it. I don't dare speak to her about it. She thinks me a child still, and treats me as though I were fifteen. What can I do?"

Carrington said he had thought of speaking to Mrs. Lee himself, but he did not know what to say, and if he offended her, he might drive her directly into Ratcliffe's arms. But Sybil thought she would not be offended if he went to work in the right way. "She will stand more from you than from any one else. Tell her openly that you--that you love her," said Sybil with a burst of desperate courage; "she can't take offence at that; and then you can say almost anything."

Carrington looked at Sybil with more admiration than he had ever expected to feel for her, and began to think that he might do worse than to put himself under her orders. After all, she had some practical sense, and what was more to the point, she was handsomer than ever, as she sat erect on her horse, the rich colour rushing up under the warm skin, at the impropriety of her speech. "You are certainly right," said he; "after all, I have nothing to lose. Whether she marries Ratcliffe or not, she will never marry me, I suppose."

This speech was a cowardly attempt to beg encouragement from Sybil, and met with the fate it deserved, for Sybil, highly flattered at Carrington's implied praise, and bold as a lioness now that it was Carrington's fingers, and not her own, that were to go into the fire, gave him on the spot a feminine view of the situation that did not encourage his hopes. She plainly said that men seemed to take leave of their senses as soon as women were concerned; for her part, she could not understand what there was in any woman to make such a fuss about; she thought most women were horrid; men were ever so much nicer; "and as for Madeleine, whom all of you are ready to cut each other's throats about, she's a dear, good sister, as good as gold, and I love her with all my heart, but you wouldn't like her, any of you, if you married her; she has always had her own way, and she could not help taking it; she never could learn to take yours; both of you would be unhappy in a week; and as for that old Mr. Ratcliffe, she would make his life a burden--and I hope she will," concluded Sybil with a spiteful little explosion of hatred.

Carrington could not help being amused by Sybil's way of dealing with affairs of the heart. Emboldened by encouragement, she went on to attack him pitilessly for going down on his knees before her sister, "just as though you were not as good as she is," and openly avowed that, if she were a man, she would at least have some pride. Men like this kind of punishment.

Carrington did not attempt to defend himself; he even courted Sybil's attack. They both enjoyed their ride through the bare woods, by the rippling spring streams, under the languid breath of the moist south wind. It was a small idyll, all the more pleasant because there was gloom before and behind it. Sybil's irrepressible gaiety made Carrington doubt whether, after all, life need be so serious a matter. She had animal spirits in plenty, and it needed an effort for her to keep them down, while Carrington's spirits were nearly exhausted after twenty years of strain, and he required a greater effort to hold himself up. There was every reason why he should be grateful to Sybil for lending to him from her superfluity. He enjoyed being laughed at by her. Suppose Madeleine Lee did refuse to marry him! What of it?

"Pooh!" said Sybil; "you men are all just alike. How can you be so silly?

Madeleine and you would be intolerable together. Do find some one who won't be solemn!"

They laid out their little plot against Madeleine and elaborated it carefully, both as to what Carrington should say and how he should say it, for Sybil asserted that men were too stupid to be trusted even in making a declaration of love, and must be taught, like little children to say their prayers. Carrington enjoyed being taught how to make a declaration of love.

He did not ask where Sybil had learned so much about men's stupidity. He thought perhaps Schneidekoupon could have thrown light on the subject. At all events, they were so busily occupied with their schemes and lessons, that they did not-reach home till Madeleine had become anxious lest they had met with some accident. The long dusk had become darkness before she heard the clatter of hoofs on the asphalt pavement, and she went down to the door to scold them for their delay. Sybil only laughed at her, and said it was all Mr. Carrington's fault: he had lost his way, and she had been forced to find it for him.

Ten days more passed before their plan was carried into effect. April had come. Carrington's work was completed and he was ready to start on his journey. Then at last he appeared one evening at Mrs. Lee's at the very moment when Sybil, as chance would have it, was going out to pass an hour or two with her friend Victoria Dare a few doors away. Carrington felt a little ashamed as she went. This kind of conspiracy behind Mrs. Lee's back was not to his taste.

He resolutely sat down, and plunged at once into his subject. He was almost ready to go, he said; he had nearly completed his work in the Department, and he was assured that his instructions and papers would be ready in two days more; he might not have another chance to see Mrs. Lee so quietly again, and he wanted to take his leave now, for this was what lay most heavily on his mind; he should have gone willingly and gladly if it had not been for uneasiness about her; and yet he had till now been afraid to speak openly on the subject. Here he paused for a moment as though to invite some reply.

Madeleine laid down her work with a look of regret though not of annoyance, and said frankly and instantly that he had been too good a friend to allow of her taking offence at anything he could say; she would not pretend to misunderstand him. "My affairs," she added with a shade of bitterness, "seem to have become public property, and I would rather have some voice in discussing them myself than to know they are discussed behind my back."

This was a sharp thrust at the very outset, but Carrington turned it aside and went quietly on:

"You are frank and loyal, as you always are. I will be so too. I can't help being so. For months I have had no other pleasure than in being near you.

For the first time in my life I have known what it is to forget my own affairs in loving a woman who seems to me without a fault, and for one solitary word from whom I would give all I have in life, and perhaps itself."

Madeleine flushed and bent towards him with an earnestness of manner that repeated itself in her tone.

"Mr. Carrington, I am the best friend you have on earth. One of these days you will thank me with your whole soul for refusing to listen to you now.

You do not know how much misery I am saving you. I have no heart to give.

You want a young, fresh life to help yours; a gay, lively temperament to enliven your despondency; some one still young enough to absorb herself in you and make all her existence yours. I could not do it. I can give you nothing. I have done my best to persuade myself that some day I might begin life again with the old hopes and feelings, but it is no use. The fire is burned out. If you married me, you would destroy yourself You would wake up some day, and find the universe dust and ashes."

Carrington listened in silence. He made no attempt to interrupt or to contradict her. Only at the end he said with a little bitterness: "My own life is worth so much to the world and to me, that I suppose it would be wrong to risk it on such a venture; but I would risk it, nevertheless, if you gave me the chance. Do you think me wicked for tempting Providence? I do not mean to annoy you with entreaties. I have a little pride left, and a great deal of respect for you. Yet I think, in spite of all you have said or can say, that one disappointed life may be as able to find happiness and repose in another, as to get them by sucking the young life-blood of a fresh soul."

To this speech, which was unusually figurative for Carrington, Mrs. Lee could find no ready answer. She could only reply that Carrington's life was worth quite as much as his neighbour's, and that it was worth so much to her, if not to himself, that she would not let him wreck it.

Carrington went on: "Forgive my talking in this way. I do not mean to complain. I shall always love you just as much, whether you care for me or not, because you are the only woman I have ever met, or am ever likely to meet, who seems to me perfect."

If this was Sybil's teaching, she had made the best of her time.

Carrington's tone and words pierced through all Mrs. Lee's armour as though they were pointed with the most ingenious cruelty, and designed to torture her. She felt hard and small before him. Life for life, his had been, and was now, far less bright than hers, yet he was her superior. He sat there, a true man, carrying his burden calmly, quietly, without complaint, ready to face the next shock of life with the same endurance he had shown against the rest. And he thought her perfect! She felt humiliated that any brave man should say to her face that he thought her perfect! She! perfect! In her contrition she was half ready to go down at his feet and confess her sins; her hysterical dread of sorrow and suffering, her narrow sympathies, her feeble faith, her miserable selfishness, her abject cowardice. Every nerve in her body tingled with shame when she thought what a miserable fraud she was; what a mass of pretensions unfounded, of deceit ingrained. She was ready to hide her face in her hands. She was disgusted, outraged with her own image as she saw it, contrasted with Carrington's single word: Perfect!

Nor was this the worst. Carrington was not the first man who had thought her perfect. To hear this word suddenly used again, which had never been uttered to her before except by lips now dead and gone, made her brain reel. She seemed to hear her husband once more telling her that she was perfect. Yet against this torture, she had a better defence. She had long since hardened herself to bear these recollections, and they steadied and strengthened her.

She had been called perfect before now, and what had come of it? Two graves, and a broken life! She drew herself up with a face now grown quite pale and rigid. In reply to Carrington, she said not a word, but only shook her head slightly without looking at him.

He went on: "After all, it is not my own happiness I am thinking of but yours. I never was vain enough to think that I was worth your love, or that I could ever win it. Your happiness is another thing. I care so much for that as to make me dread going away, for fear that you may yet find yourself entangled in this wretched political life here, when, perhaps if I stayed, I might be of some use."

"Do you really think, then, that I am going to fall a victim to Mr.

Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine, with a cold smile.

"Why not?" replied Carrington, in a similar tone. "He can put forward a strong claim to your sympathy and help, if not to your love. He can offer you a great field of usefulness which you want. He has been very faithful to you. Are you quite sure that even now you can refuse him without his complaining that you have trifled with him?"

"And are you quite sure," added Mrs. Lee, evasively, "that you have not been judging him much too harshly? I think I know him better than you. He has many good qualities, and some high ones. What harm can he do me? Supposing even that he did succeed in persuading me that my life could be best used in helping his, why should I be afraid of it?"

"You and I," said Carrington, "are wide apart in our estimates of Mr.

Ratcliffe. To you, of course, he shows his best side. He is on his good behaviour, and knows that any false step will ruin him. I see in him only a coarse, selfish, unprincipled politician, who would either drag you down to his own level, or, what is more likely, would very soon disgust you and make your life a wretched self-immolation before his vulgar ambition, or compel you to leave him. In either case you would be the victim. You cannot afford to make another false start in life. Reject me! I have not a word to say against it. But be on your guard against giving your existence up to him."

"Why do you think so ill of Mr. Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine; "he always speaks highly of you. Do you know anything against him that the world does not?"

"His public acts are enough to satisfy me," replied Carrington, evading a part of the question. "You know that I have never had but one opinion about him."

There was a pause in the conversation. Both parties felt that as yet no good had come of it. At length Madeleine asked, "What would you have me do? Is it a pledge you want that I will under no circumstances marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"

"Certainly not," was the answer; "you know me better than to think I would ask that. I only want you to take time and keep out of his influence until your mind is fairly made up. A year hence I feel certain that you will think of him as I do."

"Then you will allow me to marry him if I find that you are mistaken," said Mrs. Lee, with a marked tone of sarcasm.

Carrington looked annoyed, but he answered quietly, "What I fear is his influence here and now. What I would like to see you do is this: go north a month earlier than you intended, and without giving him time to act. If I were sure you were safely in Newport, I should feel no anxiety."

"You seem to have as bad an opinion of Washington as Mr. Gore," said Madeleine, with a contemptuous smile. "He gave me the same advice, though he was afraid to tell me why. I am not a child. I am thirty years old, and have seen something of the world. I am not afraid, like Mr. Gore, of Washington malaria, or, like you, of Mr. Ratcliffe's influence. If I fall a victim I shall deserve my fate, and certainly I shall have no cause to complain of my friends. They have given me advice enough for a lifetime."

Carrington's face darkened with a deeper shade of regret. The turn which the conversation had taken was precisely what he had expected, and both Sybil and he had agreed that Madeleine would probably answer just in this way.

Nevertheless, he could not but feel acutely the harm he was doing to his own interests, and it was only by a sheer effort of the will that he forced himself to a last and more earnest attack.

"I know it is an impertinence," he said; "I wish it were in my power to show how much it costs me to offend you. This is the first time you ever had occasion to be offended. If I were to yield to the fear of your anger and were to hold my tongue now, and by any chance you were to wreck your life on this rock, I should never forgive myself the cowardice. I should always think I might have done something to prevent it. This is probably the last time I shall have the chance to talk openly with you, and I implore you to listen to me. I want nothing for myself If I knew I should never see you again, I would still say the same thing. Leave Washington! Leave it now!

--at once! --without giving more than twenty-four hours' notice! Leave it without letting Mr. Ratcliffe see you again in private! Come back next winter if you please, and then accept him if you think proper. I only pray you to think long about it and decide when you are not here."

Madeleine's eyes flashed, and she threw aside her embroidery with an impatient gesture: "No! Mr. Carrington! I will not be dictated to! I will carry out my own plans! I do not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe. If I had meant it, I should have done it before now. But I will not run away from him or from myself. It would be unladylike, undignified, cowardly."

Carrington could say no more. He had come to the end of his lesson. A long silence ensued and then he rose to go. "Are you angry with me?" said she in a softer tone.

"I ought to ask that question," said he. "Can you forgive me? I am afraid not. No man can say to a woman what I have said to you, and be quite forgiven. You will never think of me again as you would have done if I had not spoken. I knew that before I did it. As for me, I can only go on with my old life. It is not gay, and will not be the gayer for our talk to-night."

Madeleine relented a little: "Friendships like ours are not so easily broken," she said. "Do not do me another injustice. You will see me again before you go?"

He assented and bade good-night. Mrs. Lee, weary and disturbed in mind, hastened to her room. "When Miss Sybil comes in, tell her that I am not very well, and have gone to bed," were her instructions to her maid, and Sybil thought she knew the cause of this headache.

But before Carrington's departure he had one more ride with Sybil, and reported to her the result of the interview, at which both of them confessed themselves much depressed. Carrington expressed some hope that Madeleine meant, after a sort, to give a kind of pledge by saying that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Ratcliffe, but Sybil shook her head emphatically:

"How can a woman tell whether she is going to accept a man until she is asked?" said she with entire confidence, as though she were stating the simplest fact in the world. Carrington looked puzzled, and ventured to ask whether women did not generally make up their minds beforehand on such an interesting point; but Sybil overwhelmed him with contempt: "What good will they do by making up their minds, I should like to know? of course they would go and do the opposite. Sensible women don't pretend to make up their minds, Mr. Carrington. But you men are so stupid, and you can't understand in the least."

Carrington gave it up, and went back to his stale question: Could Sybil suggest any other resource? and Sybil sadly confessed that she could not. So far as she could see, they must trust to luck, and she thought it was cruel tor Mr. Carrington to go away and leave her alone without help. He had promised to prevent the marriage.

"One thing more I mean to do," said Carrington: "and here everything will depend on your courage and nerve. You may depend upon it that Mr. Ratcliffe will offer himself before you go north. He does not suspect you of making trouble, and he will not think about you in any way if you let him alone and keep quiet. When he does offer himself you will know it; at least your sister will tell you if she has accepted him. If she refuses him point blank, you will have nothing to do but to keep her steady. If you see her hesitating, you must break in at any cost, and use all your influence to stop her. Be bold, then, and do your best. If everything fails and she still clings to him, I must play my last card, or rather you must play it for me.

I shall leave with you a sealed letter which you are to give her if everything else fails. Do it before she sees Ratcliffe a second time. See that she reads it and, if necessary, make her read it, no matter when or where. No one else must know that it exists, and you must take as much care of it as though it were a diamond. You are not to know what is in it; it must be a complete secret. Do you understand?"

Sybil thought she did, but her heart sank. "When shall you give me this letter?" she asked.

"The evening before I start, when I come to bid good-bye; probably next Sunday. This letter is our last hope. If, after reading that, she does not give him up, you will have to pack your trunk, my dear Sybil, and find a new home, for you can never live with them."

He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased her to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to such familiarities.

"Oh, I wish you were not going!" she exclaimed tearfully. "What shall I do when you are gone?"

At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found that he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to like her frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length discovered that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was it not something like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this young person for the last month? A glimmering of suspicion crossed his mind, though he got rid of it as quickly as possible. For a man of his age and sobriety to be in love with two sisters at once was impossible; still more impossible that Sybil should care for him.

As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had grown to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind confidence of youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had never before felt the sensation, and she thought it most disagreeable. Her youthful diplomatists and admirers could not at all fill Carrington's place. They danced and chirruped cheerfully on the hollow crust of society, but they were wholly useless when one suddenly fell through and found oneself struggling in the darkness and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are apt to be flattered by the confidences of older men; they have a keen palate for whatever savours of experience and adventure. For the first time in her life, Sybil had found a man who gave some play to her imagination; one who had been a rebel, and had grown used to the shocks of fate, so as to walk with calmness into the face of death, and to command or obey with equal indifference. She felt that he would tell her what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult, which is in a woman's eyes the great object of men's existence, when trouble comes. She suddenly conceived that Washington would be intolerable without him, and that she should never get the courage to fight Mr. Ratcliffe alone, or, if she did, she should make some fatal mistake.

They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new interest in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about his sisters and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she could not do something to help them, but this seemed too awkward. On his part he made her promise to write him faithfully all that took place, and this request pleased her, though she knew his interest was all on her sister's account.

The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it was still worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was there, and several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes like a cat and saw every motion of one's face. Victoria Dare was on the sofa, chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have had any ordinary illness, even to the extent of a light case of scarlet fever or small-pox than let her know what was the matter. Carrington found means to get Sybil into another room for a moment and to give her the letter he had promised. Then he bade her good-bye, and in doing so he reminded her of her promise to write, pressing her hand and looking into her eyes with an earnestness that made her heart beat faster, although she said to herself that his interest was all about her sister; as it was--mostly. The thought did not raise her spirits, but she went through with her performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was a little pleased to see that he parted from Madeleine with much less apparent feeling. One would have said that they were two good friends who had no troublesome sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in the room was watching this farewell, and speculating about it. Ratcliffe looked on with particular interest and was a little perplexed to account for this too fraternal cordiality. Could he have made a miscalculation? or was there something behind? He himself insisted upon shaking hands genially with Carrington and wished him a pleasant journey and a successful one.

That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil actually cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true that her sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed down by a great responsibility.

For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She would not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a little, and found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the Square, where the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the prancing horse of the great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross, too, and absent, and spoke so often about Carrington that at last Madeleine was struck by sudden suspicion, and began to watch her with anxious care.

Tuesday night, after this had gone on for two days, Sybil was in Madeleine's room, where she often stayed to talk while her sister was at her toilet.

This evening she threw herself listlessly on the couch, and within five minutes again quoted Carrington. Madeleine turned from the glass before which she was sitting, and looked her steadily in the face.

"Sybil," said she, "this is the twenty-fourth time you have mentioned Mr.

Carrington since we sat down to dinner. I have waited for the round number to decide whether I should take any notice of it or not? what does it mean, my child? Do you care for Mr. Carrington?"

"Oh, Maude!" exclaimed Sybil reproachfully, flushing so violently that, even by that dim light, her sister could not but see it.

Mrs. Lee rose and, crossing the room, sat down by Sybil who was lying on the couch and turned her face away. Madeleine put her arms round her neck and kissed her.

"My poor--poor child!" said she pityingly. "I never dreamed of this! What a fool I have been! How could I have been so thoughtless! Tell me!" she added, with a little hesitation; "has he--does he care for you?"

"No! no!" cried Sybil, fairly breaking down into a burst of tears; "no! he loves you! nobody but you! he never gave a thought to me. I don't care for him so very much," she continued, drying her tears; "only it seems so lonely now he is gone."

Mrs. Lee remained on the couch, with her arm round her sister's neck, silent, gazing into vacancy, the picture of perplexity and consternation.

The situation was getting beyond her control.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 13:0 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 9

 

 

Whenever a man reaches the top of the political ladder, his enemies unite to pull him down. His friends become critical and exacting. Among the many dangers of this sort which now threatened Ratcliffe, there was one that, had he known it, might have made him more uneasy than any of those which were the work of senators and congressmen. Carrington entered into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Sybil. It came about in this wise. Sybil was fond of riding. and occasionally, when Carrington could spare the time, he went as her guide and protector in these country excursions; for every Virginian, however out at elbows, has a horse, as he has shoes or a shirt.

In a thoughtless moment Carrington had been drawn into a promise that he would take Sybil to Arlington. The promise was one that he did not hurry to keep, for there were reasons which made a visit to Arlington anything but a pleasure to him; but Sybil would listen to no excuses, and so it came about that, one lovely March morning, when the shrubs and the trees in the square before the house were just beginning, under the warmer sun, to show signs of their coming wantonness, Sybil stood at the open window waiting for him, while her new Kentucky horse before the door showed what he thought of the delay by curving his neck, tossing his head, and pawing the pavement.

Carrington was late and kept her waiting so long, that the mignonette and geraniums, which adorned the window, suffered for his slowness, and the curtain tassels showed signs of wilful damage. Nevertheless he arrived at length, and they set out together, choosing the streets least enlivened by horse-cars and provision-carts, until they had crept through the great metropolis of Georgetown and come upon the bridge which crosses the noble river just where its bold banks open out to clasp the city of Washington in their easy embrace. Then reaching the Virginia side they cantered gaily up the laurel-margined road, with glimpses of woody defiles, each carrying its trickling stream and rich in promise of summer flowers, while from point to point they caught glorious glimpses of the distant city and river. They passed the small military station on the heights, still dignified by the name of fort, though Sybil silently wondered how a fort was possible without fortifications, and complained that there was nothing more warlike than a "nursery of telegraph poles." The day was blue and gold; everything smiled and sparkled in the crisp freshness of the morning. Sybil was in bounding spirits. and not at all pleased to find that her companion became moody and abstracted as they went on. "Poor Mr. Carrington!" thought she to herself, "he is so nice; but when he puts on that solemn air, one might as well go to sleep. I am quite certain no nice woman will ever marry him if he looks like that;" and her practical mind ran off among all the girls of her acquaintance, in search of one who would put up with Carrington's melancholy face. She knew his devotion to her sister, but had long ago rejected this as a hopeless chance. There was a simplicity about Sybil's way of dealing with life, which had its own charm. She never troubled herself about the impossible or the unthinkable. She had feelings, and was rather quick in her sympathies and sorrows, but she was equally quick in getting over them, and she expected other people to do likewise. Madeleine dissected her own feelings and was always wondering whether they were real or not; she had a habit of taking off her mental clothing, as she might take off a dress, and looking at it as though it belonged to some one else, and as though sensations were manufactured like clothes. This seems to be one of the easier ways of deadening sorrow, as though the mind could teach itself to lop off its feelers. Sybil particularly disliked this self-inspection. In the first place she did not understand it, and in the second her mind was all feelers, and amputation was death. She could no more analyse a feeling than doubt its existence, both which were habits of her sister.

How was Sybil to know what was passing in Carrington's mind? He was thinking of nothing in which she supposed herself interested. He was troubled with memories of civil war and of associations still earlier, belonging to an age already vanishing or vanished; but what could she know about civil war who had been almost an infant at the time? At this moment, she happened to be interested in the baffle of Waterloo, for she was reading "Vanity Fair," and had cried as she ought for poor little Emmy, when her husband, George Osborne, lay dead on the field there, with a bullet through his heart. But how was she to know that here, only a few rods before her, lay scores and hundreds of George Osbornes, or his betters, and in their graves the love and hope of many Emmys, not creatures of the imagination, but flesh and blood, like herself? To her, there was no more in those associations which made Carrington groan in the silence of his thoughts, than if he had been old Kaspar, and she the little Wilhelmine. What was a skull more or less to her? What concern had she in the famous victory?

Yet even Sybil was startled as she rode through the gate and found herself suddenly met by the long white ranks of head-stones, stretching up and down the hill-sides by thousands, in order of baffle; as though Cadmus had reversed his myth, and had sown living men, to come up dragons' teeth. She drew in her horse with a shiver and a sudden impulse to cry. Here was something new to her. This was war--wounds, disease, death. She dropped her voice and with a look almost as serious as Carrington's, asked what all these graves meant. When Carrington told her, she began for the first time to catch some dim notion why his face was not quite as gay as her own. Even now this idea was not very precise, for he said little about himself, but at least she grappled with the fact that he had actually, year after year, carried arms against these men who lay at her feet and who had given their lives for her cause. It suddenly occurred to her as a new thought that perhaps he himself might have killed one of them with his own hand. There was a strange shock in this idea. She felt that Carrington was further from her. He gained dignity in his rebel isolation. She wanted to ask him how he could have been a traitor, and she did not dare. Carrington a traitor!

Carrington killing her friends! The idea was too large to grasp. She fell back on the simpler task of wondering how he had looked in his rebel uniform.

They rode slowly round to the door of the house and dismounted, after he had with some difficulty found a man to hold their horses. From the heavy brick porch they looked across the superb river to the raw and incoherent ugliness of the city, idealised into dreamy beauty by the atmosphere, and the soft background of purple hills behind. Opposite them, with its crude "thus saith the law" stamped on white dome and fortress-like walls, rose the Capitol.

Carrington stood with her a short time while they looked at the view; then said he would rather not go into the house himself, and sat down on the steps while she strolled alone through the rooms. These were bare and gaunt, so that she, with her feminine sense of fitness, of course considered what she would do to make them habitable. She had a neat fancy for furniture, and distributed her tones and half tones and bits of colour freely about the walls and ceilings, with a high-backed chair here, a spindle-legged sofa there, and a claw-footed table in the centre, until her eye was caught by a very dirty deal desk, on which stood an open book, with an inkstand and some pens. On the leaf she read the last entry: "Eli M. Grow and lady, Thermopyle Centre." Not even the graves outside had brought the horrors of war so near.

What a scourge it was! This respectable family turned out of such a lovely house, and all the pretty old furniture swept away before a horde of coarse invaders "with ladies." Did the hosts of Attila write their names on visiting books in the temple of Vesta and the house of Sallust? What a new terror they would have added to the name of the scourge of God! Sybil returned to the portico and sat down by Carrington on the steps.

"How awfully sad it is!" said she; "I suppose the house was prettily furnished when the Lees lived here? Did you ever see it then?"

Sybil was not very profound, but she had sympathy, and at this moment Carrington felt sorely in need of comfort. He wanted some one to share his feelings, and he turned towards her hungry for companionship.

"The Lees were old family friends of mine," said he. "I used to stay here when I was a boy, even as late as the spring of 1861. The last time I sat here, it was with them. We were wild about disunion and talked of nothing else. I have been trying to recall what was said then. We never thought there would be war, and as for coercion, it was nonsense. Coercion, indeed!

The idea was ridiculous. I thought so, too, though I was a Union man and did not want the State to go out. But though I felt sure that Virginia must suffer, I never thought we could be beaten. Yet now I am sitting here a pardoned rebel, and the poor Lees are driven away and their place is a grave-yard."

Sybil became at once absorbed in the Lees and asked many questions, all which Carrington gladly answered. He told her how he had admired and followed General Lee through the war. "We thought he was to be our Washington, you know; and perhaps he had some such idea himself;" and then, when Sybil wanted to hear about the baffles and the fighting, he drew a rough map on the gravel path to show her how the two lines had run, only a few miles away; then he told her how he had carried his musket day after day over all this country, and where he had seen his battles. Sybil had everything to learn; the story came to her with all the animation of real life, for here under her eyes were the graves of her own champions, and by her side was a rebel who had stood under our fire at Malvern Hill and at South Mountain, and who was telling her how men looked and what they thought in face of death. She listened with breathless interest, and at last summoned courage to ask in an awestruck tone whether Carrington had ever killed any one himself. She was relieved, although a little disappointed, when he said that he believed not; he hoped not; though no private who has discharged a musket in baffle can be quite sure where the bullet went. "I never tried to kill any one," said he, "though they tried to kill me incessantly." Then Sybil begged to know how they had tried to kill him, and he told her one or two of those experiences, such as most soldiers have had, when he had been fired upon and the balls had torn his clothes or drawn blood. Poor Sybil was quite overcome, and found a deadly fascination in the horror. As they sat together on the steps with the glorious view spread before them, her attention was so closely fixed on his story that she saw neither the view nor even the carriages of tourists who drove up, looked about, and departed, envying Carrington his occupation with the lovely girl.

She was in imagination rushing with him down the valley of Virginia on the heels of our flying army, or gloomily toiling back to the Potomac after the bloody days at Gettysburg, or watching the last grand debâcle on the road from Richmond to Appomattox. They would have sat there till sunset if Carrington had not at length insisted that they must go, and then she rose slowly with a deep sigh and undisguised regret.

As they rode away, Carrington, whose thoughts were not devoted to his companion so entirely as they should have been, ventured to say that he wished her sister had come with them, but he found that his hint was not well received.

Sybil emphatically rejected the idea: "I'm very glad she didn't come. If she had, you would have talked with her all the time, and I should have been left to amuse myself. You would have been discussing things, and I hate discussions. She would have been hunting for first principles, and you would have been running about, trying to catch some for her. Besides, she is coming herself some Sunday with that tiresome Mr. Ratcliffe. I don't see what she finds in that man to amuse her. Her taste is getting to be demoralised in Washington. Do you know, Mr. Carrington, I'm not clever or serious, like Madeleine, and I can't read laws, and hate politics, but I've more common sense than she has, and she makes me cross with her. I understand now why young widows are dangerous, and why they're bumed at their husband's funerals in India. Not that I want to have Madeleine burned, for she's a dear, good creature, and I love her better than anything in the world; but she will certainly do herself some dreadful mischief one of these days; she has the most extravagant notions about self-sacrifice and duty; if she hadn't luckily thought of taking charge of me, she would have done some awful thing long ago, and if I could only be a little wicked, she would be quite happy all the rest of her life in reforming me; but now she has got hold of that Mr. Ratcliffe, and he is trying to make her think she can reform him, and if he does, it's all up with us. Madeleine will just go and break her heart over that odious, great, coarse brute, who only wants her money."

Sybil delivered this little oration with a degree of energy that went to Carrington's heart. She did not often make such sustained efforts, and it was clear that on this subject she had exhausted her whole mind. Carrington was delighted, and urged her on. "I dislike Mr. Ratcliffe as much as you do;--more perhaps. So does every one who knows much about him. But we shall only make the matter worse if we interfere. What can we do?"

"That is just what I tell everybody," resumed Sybil. "There is Victoria Dare always telling me I ought to do something; and Mr. Schneidekoupon too; just as though I could do anything. Madeleine has done nothing but get into mischief here. Half the people think her worldly and ambitious. Only last night that spiteful old woman, Mrs. Clinton, said to me: 'Your sister is quite spoiled by Washington. She is more wild for power than any human being I ever saw.' I was dreadfully angry and told her she was quite mistaken--Madeleine was not the least spoiled. But I couldn't say that she was not fond of power, for she is; but not in the way Mrs. Clinton meant.

You should have seen her the other evening when Mr. Ratcliffe said about some matter of public business that he would do whatever she thought right; she spoke up quite sharply for her, with a scornful little laugh, and said that he had better do what he thought right. He looked for a moment almost angry, and muttered something about women's being incomprehensible. He is always trying to tempt her with power. She might have had long ago all the power he could give her, but I can see, and he sees too, that she always keeps him at arm's length. He doesn't like it, but he expects one of these days to find a bribe that will answer. I wish we had never come to Washington. New York is so much nicer and the people there are much more amusing; they dance ever so much better and send one flowers all the time, and then they never talk about first principles. Maude had her hospitals and paupers and training school, and got along very well. It was so safe. But when I say so to her, she only smiles in a patronising kind of way, and tells me that I shall have as much of Newport as I want; just as though I were a child, and not a woman of twenty-five. Poor Maude! I can't stay with her if she marries Mr. Ratcliffe, and it would break my heart to leave her with that man. Do you think he would beat her? Does he drink? I would almost rather be beaten a little, if I cared for a man, than be taken out to Peonia. Oh, Mr. Carrington! you are our only hope. She will listen to you.

Don't let her marry that dreadful politician."

To all this pathetic appeal, some parts of which were as liffle calculated to please Carrington as Ratcliffe himself, Carrington answered that he was ready to do all in his power but that Sybil must tell him when and how to act.

"Then, it's a bargain," said she; "whenever I want you, I shall call on you for help, and you shall prevent the marriage."

"Alliance offensive and defensive," said he, laughing; "war to the knife on Ratcliffe. We will have his scalp if necessary, but I rather think he will soon commit hari-kari himself if we leave him alone."

"Madeleine will like him all the better if he does anything Japanese,"

replied Sybil, with great seriousness; "I wish there was more Japanese bric-à-brac here, or any kind of old pots and pans to talk about. A little art would be good for her. What a strange place this is, and how people do stand on their heads in it! Nobody thinks like anyone else. Victoria Dare says she is trying on principle not to be good, because she wants to keep some new excitements for the next world. I'm sure she practices as she preaches. Did you see her at Mrs. Clinton's last night. She behaved more outrageously than ever. She sat on the stairs all through supper, looking like a demure yellow cat with two bouquets in her paws--and I know Lord Dunbeg sent one of them;--and she actually let Mr. French feed her with ice-cream from a spoon. She says she was showing Lord Dunbeg a phase, and that he is going to put it into his article on American Manners and Customs in the Quarterly, but I don't think it's nice, do you, Mr. Carrington? I wish Madeleine had her to take care of. She would have enough to do then, I can tell her."

And so, gently prattling, Miss Sybil returned to the city, her alliance with Carrington completed; and it was a singular fact that she never again called him dull. There was henceforward a look of more positive pleasure and cordiality on her face when he made his appearance wherever she might be; and the next time he suggested a horseback excursion she instantly agreed to go, although aware that she had promised a younger gentleman of the diplomatic body to be at home that same afternoon, and the good fellow swore polyglot oaths on being turned away from her door.

Mr. Ratcliffe knew nothing of this conspiracy against his peace and prospects. Even if he had known it, he might only have laughed, and pursued his own path without a second thought. Yet it was certain that he did not think Carrington's enmity a thing to be overlooked, and from the moment of his obtaining a clue to its cause, he had begun to take precautions against it. Even in the middle of the contest for the Treasury, he had found time to listen to Mr. Wilson Keens report on the affairs of the late Samuel Baker.

Mr. Keen came to him with a copy of Baker's will and with memoranda of remarks made by the unsuspecting Mrs. Baker; "from which it appears," said he, "that Baker, having no time to put his affairs in order, left special directions that his executors should carefully destroy all papers that might be likely to compromise individuals."

"What is the executor's name?" interrupted Ratcliffe.

"The executor's name is--John Carrington," said Keen, methodically referring to his copy of the will.

Ratcliffe's face was impassive, but the inevitable, "I knew it," almost sprang to his lips. He was rather pleased at the instinct which had led him so directly to the right trail.

Keen went on to say that from Mrs. Baker's conversation it was certain that the testator's directions had been carried out, and that the great bulk of these papers had been burned.

"Then it will be useless to press the inquiry further," said Ratcliffe; "I am much obliged to you for your assistance," and he turned the conversation to the condition of Mr. Keen's bureau in the Treasury department.

The next time Ratcliffe saw Mrs. Lee, after his appointment to the Treasury was confirmed, he asked her whether she did not think Carrington very well suited for public service, and when she warmly assented, he said it had occurred to him to offer the place of Solicitor of the Treasury to Mr.

Carrington, for although the actual salary might not be very much more than he earned by his private practice, the incidental advantages to a Washington lawyer were considerable; and to the Secretary it was especially necessary to have a solicitor in whom he could place entire confidence. Mrs. Lee was pleased by this motion of Ratcliffe's, the more because she had supposed that Ratcliffe had no liking for Carrington. She doubted whether Carrington would accept the place, but she hoped that it might modify his dislike for Ratcliffe, and she agreed to sound him on the subject. There was something a little compromising in thus allowing herself to appear as the dispenser of Mr. Ratcliffe's patronage, but she dismissed this objection on the ground that Carrington's interests were involved, and that it was for him to judge whether he should take the place or not. Perhaps the world would not be so charitable if the appointment were made. What then? Mrs. Lee asked herself the question and did not feel quite at ease.

So far as Carrington was concerned, she might have dismissed her doubts.

There was not a chance of his taking the place, as very soon appeared. When she spoke to him on the subject, and repeated what Ratcliffe had said, his face flushed, and he sat for some moments in silence. He never thought very rapidly, but now the ideas seemed to come so fast as to bewilder his mind.

The situation flashed before his eyes like electric sparks. His first impression was that Ratcliffe wanted to buy him; to tie his tongue; to make him run, like a fastened dog, under the waggon of the Secretary of the Treasury. His second notion was that Ratcliffe wanted to put Mrs. Lee under obligations, in order to win her regard; and, again, that he wanted to raise himself in her esteem by posing as a friend of honest administration and unassisted virtue. Then suddenly it occurred to him that the scheme was to make him appear jealous and vindictive; to put him in an attitude where any reason he might give for declining would bear a look of meanness, and tend to separate him from Mrs. Lee. Carrington was so absorbed by these thoughts, and his mind worked so slowly, that he failed to hear one or two remarks addressed to him by Mrs. Lee, who became a little alarmed, under the impression that he was unexpectedly paralyzed.

When at length he heard her and attempted to frame an answer, his embarrassment increased. He could only stammer that he was sorry to be obliged to decline, but this office was one he could not undertake.

If Madeleine felt a little relieved by this decision, she did not show it.

From her manner one might have supposed it to be her fondest wish that Carrington should be Solicitor of the Treasury. She cross-questioned him with obstinacy. Was not the offer a good one? --and he was obliged to confess that it was. Were the duties such as he could not perform? Not at all! there was nothing in the duties which alarmed him. Did he object to it because of his southern prejudices against the administration? Oh, no! he had no political feeling to stand in his way. What, then, could be his reason for refusing?

Carrington resorted again to silence, until Mrs. Lee, a little impatiently, asked whether it was possible that his personal dislike to Racliffe could blind him so far as to make him reject so fair a proposal. Carrington, finding himself more and more uncomfortable, rose restlessly from his chair and paced the room. He felt that Ratclife had fairly out-generaled him, and he was at his wits' end to know what card he could play that would not lead directly into Ratcliffe's trump suit. To refuse such an offer was hard enough at best, for a man who wanted money and professional advancement as he did, but to injure himself and help Ratcliffe by this refusal, was abominably hard. Nevertheless, he was obliged to admit that he would rather not take a position so directly under Ratcliffe's control. Madeleine said no more, but he thought she looked annoyed, and he felt himself in an intolerably painful situation. He was not certain that she herself might not have had some share in proposing the plan, and that his refusal might not have some mortifying consequences for her. What must she think of him, then?

At this very moment he would have given his right arm for a word of real affection from Mrs. Lee. He adored her. He would willingly enough have damned himself for her. There was no sacrifice he would not have made to bring her nearer to him. In his upright, quiet, simple kind of way, he immolated himself before her. For months his heart had ached with this hopeless passion. He recognized that it was hopeless. He knew that she would never love him, and, to do her justice, she never had given him reason to suppose that it was in her power to love him, r any man. And here he stood, obliged to appear ungrateful and prejudiced, mean and vindictive, in her eyes. He took his seat again, looking so unutterably dejected, his patient face so tragically mournful, that Madeleine, after a while, began to see the absurd side of the matter, and presently burst into a laugh "Please do not look so frightfully miserable!" said she; "I did not mean to make you unhappy. After all, what does it matter? You have a perfect right to refuse, and, for my part, I have not the least wish to see you accept."

On this, Carrington brightened, and declared that if she thought him right in declining, he cared for nothing else. It was only the idea of hurting her feelings that weighed on his mind. But in saying this, he spoke in a tone that implied a deeper feeling, and made Mrs. Lee again look grave and sigh.

"Ah, Mr. Carrington," she said, "this world will not run as we want. Do you suppose the time will ever come when every one will be good and happy and do just what they ought? I thought this offer might possibly take one anxiety off your shoulders. I am sorry now that I let myself be led into making it."

Carrington could not answer her. He dared not trust his voice. He rose to go, and as she held out her hand, he suddenly raised it to his lips, and so left her. She sat for a moment with tears in her eyes after he was gone. She thought she knew all that was in his mind, and with a woman's readiness to explain every act of men by their consuming passions for her own sex, she took it as a matter of course that jealousy was the whole cause of Carrington's hostility to Ratcliffe, and she pardoned it with charming alacrity. "Ten years ago, I could have loved him," she thought to herself, and then, while she was half smiling at the idea, suddenly another thought flashed upon her, and she threw her hand up before her face as though some one had struck her a blow. Carrington had reopened the old wound.

When Ratcliffe came to see her again, which he did very shortly afterwards, glad of so good an excuse, she told him of Carrington's refusal, adding only that he seemed unwilling to accept any position that had a political character. Ratcliffe showed no sign of displeasure; he only said, in a benignant tone, that he was sorry to be unable to do something for so good a friend of hers; thus establishing, at all events, his claim on her gratitude. As for Carrington, the offer which Ratcliffe had made was not intended to be accepted, and Carrington could not have more embarrassed the secretary than by closing with it. Ratcliffe's object had been to settle for his own satisfaction the question of Carrington's hostility, for he knew the man well enough to feel sure that in any event he would act a perfectly straightforward part. If he accepted, he would at least be true to his chief. If he refused, as Ratcliffe expected, it would be a proof that some means must be found of getting him out of the way. In any case the offer was a new thread in the net that Mr. Ratcliffe flattered himself he was rapidly winding about the affections and ambitions of Mrs. Lee. Yet he had reasons of his own for thinking that Carrington, more easily than any other man, could cut the meshes of this net if he chose to do so, and therefore that it would be wiser to postpone action until Carrington were disposed of.

Without a moment's delay he made inquiries as to all the vacant or eligible offices in the gift of the government outside his own department. Very few of these would answer his purpose. He wanted some temporary law business that would for a time take its holder away to a distance, say to Australia or Central Asia, the further the better; it must be highly paid, and it must be given in such a way as not to excite suspicion that Ratcliffe was concerned in the matter. Such an office was not easily found. There is little law business in Central Asia, and at this moment there was not enough to require a special agent in Australia. Carrington could hardly be induced to lead an expedition to the sources of the Nile in search of business merely to please Mr. Ratcliffe, nor could the State Department offer encouragement to a hope that government would pay the expenses of such an expedition. The best that Ratcliffe could do was to select the place of counsel to the Mexican claims-commission which was soon to meet in the city of Mexico, and which would require about six months' absence. By a little management he could contrive to get the counsel sent away in advance of the commission, in order to work up a part of the case on the spot. Ratcliffe acknowledged that Mexico was too near, but he drily remarked to himself that if Carrington could get back in time to dislodge him after he had once got a firm hold on Mrs. Lee, he would never try to run another caucus.

The point once settled in his own mind, Ratcliffe, with his usual rapidity of action, carried his scheme into effect. In this there was little difficulty. He dropped in at the office of the Secretary of State within eight-and-forty hours after his last conversation with Mrs. Lee. During these early days of every new administration, the absorbing business of government relates principally to appointments. The Secretary of the Treasury was always ready to oblige his colleagues in the Cabinet by taking care of their friends to any reasonable extent. The Secretary of State was not less courteous. The moment he understood that Mr. Ratcliffe had a strong wish to secure the appointment of a certain person as counsel to the Mexican claims-commission, the Secretary of State professed readiness to gratify him, and when he heard who the proposed person was, the suggestion was hailed with pleasure, for Carrington was well known and much liked at the Department, and was indeed an excellent man for the place. Ratcliffe hardly needed to promise an equivalent. The business was arranged in ten minutes.

"I only need say," added Ratcliffe, "that if my agency in the affair is known, Mr. Carrington will certainly refuse the place, for he is one of your old-fashioned Virginia planters, proud as Lucifer, and willing to accept nothing by way of favour. I will speak to your Assistant Secretary about it, and the recommendation shall appear to come from him."

The very next day Carrington received a private note from his old friend, the Assistant Secretary of State, who was overjoyed to do him a kindness.

The note asked him to call at the Department at his earliest convenience. He went, and the Assistant Secretary announced that he had recommended Carrington's appointment as counsel to the Mexican claims-commission, and that the Secretary had approved the recommendation. "We want a Southern man, a lawyer with a little knowledge of international law, one who can go at once, and, above all, an honest man. You fit the description to a hair; so pack your trunk as soon as you like."

Carrington was startled. Coming as it did, this offer was not only unobjectionable, but tempting. It was hard for him even to imagine a reason for hesitation. From the first he felt that he must go, and yet to go was the very last thing he wanted to do. That he should suspect Ratcliffe to be at the bottom of this scheme of banishment was a matter of course, and he instantly asked whether any influence had been used in his favour; but the Assistant Secretary so stoutly averred that the appointment was made on his recommendation alone, as to block all further inquiry. Technically this assertion was exact, and it made Carrington feel that it would be base ingratitude on his part not to accept a favour so handsomely offered.

Yet he could not make up his mind to acceptance. He begged four and twenty hours' delay, in order, as he said, to see whether he could arrange his affairs for a six months' absence, although he knew there would be no difficulty in his doing so. He went away and sat in his office alone, gloomily wondering what he could do, although from the first he saw that the situation was only too clear, and there could not be the least dark corner of a doubt to crawl into. Six months ago he would have jumped at this offer.

What had happened within six months to make it seem a disaster?

Mrs. Lee! There was the whole story. To go away now was to give up Mrs. Lee, and probably to give her up to Ratcliffe. Carrington gnashed his teeth when he thought how skilfully Ratcliffe was playing his cards. The longer he reflected, the more certain he felt that Ratcliffe was at the bottom of this scheme to get rid of him; and yet, as he studied the situation, it occurred to him that after all it was possible for Ratcliffe to make a blunder. This Illinois politician was clever, and understood men; but a knowledge of men is a very different thing from a knowledge of women. Carrington himself had no great experience in the article of women, but he thought he knew more than Ratcliffe, who was evidently relying most on his usual theory of political corruption as applied to feminine weaknesses, and who was only puzzled at finding how high a price Mrs. Lee set on herself. If Ratcliffe were really at the bottom of the scheme for separating Carrington from her, it could only be because he thought that six months, or even six weeks, would be enough to answer his purpose. And on reaching this point in his reflections, Carrington suddenly rose, lit a cigar, and walked up and down his room steadily for the next hour, with the air of a general arranging a plan of campaign, or a lawyer anticipating his opponent's line of argument.

On one point his mind was made up. He would accept. If Ratcliffe really had a hand in this move, he should be gratified. If he had laid a trap, he should be caught in it. And when the evening came, Carrington took his hat and walked off to call upon Mrs. Lee.

He found the sisters alone and quietly engaged in their occupations.

Madeleine was dramatically mending an open-work silk stocking, a delicate and difficult task which required her whole mind. Sybil was at the piano as usual, and for the first time since he had known her, she rose when he came in, and, taking her work-basket, sat down to share in the conversation. She meant to take her place as a woman, henceforward. She was tired of playing girl. Mr. Carrington should see that she was not a fool.

Carrington plunged at once into his subject, and announced the offer made to him, at which Madeleine expressed delight, and asked many questions. What was the pay? How soon must he go? How long should he be away? Was there danger from the climate? and finally she added, with a smile, "What am I to say to Mr. Ratcliffe if you accept this offer after refusing his?" As for Sybil, she made one reproachful exclamation: "Oh, Mr. Carrington!" and sank back into silence and consternation. Her first experiment at taking a stand of her own in the world was not encouraging. She felt betrayed.

Nor was Carrington gay. However modest a man may be, only an idiot can forget himself entirely in pursuing the moon and the stars. In the bottom of his soul, he had a lingering hope that when he told his story, Madeleine might look up with a change of expression, a glance of unpremeditated regard, a little suffusion of the eyes, a little trembling of the voice. To see himself relegated to Mexico with such cheerful alacrity by the woman he loved was not the experience he would have chosen. He could not help feeling that his hopes were disposed of, and he watched her with a painful sinking of the heart, which did not lead to lightness of conversation. Madeleine herself felt that her expressions needed to be qualified, and she tried to correct her mistake. What should she do without a tutor? she said. He must let her have a list of books to read while he was away: they were themselves going north in the middle of May, and Carrington would be back by the time they returned in December. After all, they should see as little of him during the summer if he were in Virginia as if he were in Mexico.

Carrington gloomily confessed that he was very unwilling to go; that he wished the idea had never been suggested; that he should be perfectly happy if for any reason the scheme broke down; but he gave no explanation of his feeling, and Madeleine had too much tact to press for one. She contented herself by arguing against it, and talking as vivaciously as she could. Her heart really bled for him as she saw his face grow more and more pathetic in its quiet expression of disappointment. But what could she say or do? He sat till after ten o'clock; he could not tear himself away. He felt that this was the end of his pleasure in life; he dreaded the solitude of his thoughts. Mrs. Lee's resources began to show signs of exhaustion. Long pauses intervened between her remarks; and at length Carrington, with a superhuman effort, apologized for inflicting himself upon her so unmercifully. If she knew, he said, how he dreaded being alone, she would forgive him. Then he rose to go, and, in taking leave, asked Sybil if she was inclined to ride the next day; if so, he was at her service. Sybil's face brightened as she accepted the invitation.

Mrs. Lee, a day or two afterwards, did mention Carrington's appointment to Mr. Ratcliffe, and she told Carrington that the Secretary certainly looked hurt and mortified, but showed it only by almost instantly changing the subject.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 12:36 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 8

 

 

Of all titles ever assumed by prince or potentate, the proudest is that of the Roman pontiffs: "Servus servorum Dei"--"Servant of the servants of God."

In former days it was not admitted that the devil's servants could by right have any share in government. They were to be shut out, punished, exiled, maimed, and burned. The devil has no servants now; only the people have servants. There may be some mistake about a doctrine which makes the wicked, when a majority, the mouthpiece of God against the virtuous, but the hopes of mankind are staked on it; and if the weak in faith sometimes quail when they see humanity floating in a shoreless ocean, on this plank, which experience and religion long since condemned as rotten, mistake or not, men have thus far floated better by its aid, than the popes ever did with their prettier principle; so that it will be a long time yet before society repents.

Whether the new President and his chief rival, Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe, were or were not servants of the servants of God, is not material here. Servants they were to some one. No doubt many of those who call themselves servants of the people are no better than wolves in sheep's clothing, or asses in lions' skins. One may see scores of them any day in the Capitol when Congress is in session, making noisy demonstrations, or more usefully doing nothing. A wiser generation will employ them in manual labour; as it is, they serve only themselves. But there are two officers, at least, whose service is real--the President and his Secretary of the Treasury. The Hoosier Quarryman had not been a week in Washington before he was heartily home-sick for Indiana. No maid-of-all-work in a cheap boarding-house was ever more harassed. Everyone conspired against him. His enemies gave him no peace. All Washington was laughing at his blunders, and ribald sheets, published on a Sunday, took delight in printing the new Chief Magistrate's sayings and doings, chronicled with outrageous humour, and placed by malicious hands where the President could not but see them. He was sensitive to ridicule, and it mortified him to the heart to find that remarks and acts, which to him seemed sensible enough, should be capable of such perversion. Then he was overwhelmed with public business. It came upon him in a deluge, and he now, in his despair, no longer tried to control it. He let it pass over him like a wave. His mind was muddied by the innumerable visitors to whom he had to listen. But his greatest anxiety was the Inaugural Address which, distracted as he was, he could not finish, although in another week it must be delivered. He was nervous about his Cabinet; it seemed to him that he could do nothing until he had disposed of Ratcliffe.

Already, thanks to the President's friends, Ratcliffe had become indispensable; still an enemy, of course, but one whose hands must be tied; a sort of Sampson, to be kept in bonds until the time came for putting him out of the way, but in the meanwhile, to be utilized. This point being settled, the President had in imagination begun to lean upon him; for the last few days he had postponed everything till next week, "when I get my Cabinet arranged;" which meant, when he got Ratcliffe's assistance; and he fell into a panic whenever he thought of the chance that Ratcliffe might refuse.

He was pacing his room impatiently on Monday mormng, an hour before the time fixed for Ratcliffe's visit. His feelings still fluctuated violently, and if he recognized the necessity of using Ratcliffe, he was not the less determined to tie Ratcliffe's hands. He must be made to come into a Cabinet where every other voice would be against him. He must be prevented from having any patronage to dispose of. He must be induced to accept these conditions at the start. How present this to him in such a way as not to repel him at once? All this was needless, if the President had only known it, but he thought himself a profound statesman, and that his hand was guiding the destinies of America to his own re-election. When at length, on the stroke of ten o'clock, Ratcliffe entered the room, the President turned to him with nervous eagerness, and almost before offering his hand, said that he hoped Mr. Ratcliffe had come prepared to begin work at once. The Senator replied that, if such was the President's decided wish, he would offer no further opposition. Then the President drew himself up in the attitude of an American Cato, and delivered a prepared address, in which he said that he had chosen the members ot his Cabinet with a careful regard to the public interests; that Mr. Ratcliffe was essential to the combination; that he expected no disagreement on principles, for there was but one principle which he should consider fundamental, namely, that there should be no removals from office except for cause; and that under these circumstances he counted upon Mr. Ratcliffe's assistance as a matter of patriotic duty.

To all this Ratcliffe assented without a word of objection, and the President, more convinced than ever of his own masterly statesmanship, breathed more freely than for a week past. Within ten minutes they were actively at work together, clearing away the mass of accumulated business.

The relief of the Quarryman surprised himself. Ratcliffe lifted the weight of affairs from his shoulders with hardly an effort. He knew everybody and everything. He took most of the President's visitors at once into his own hands and dismissed them with great rapidity. He knew what they wanted; he knew what recommendations were strong and what were weak; who was to be treated with deference and who was to be sent away abruptly; where a blunt refusal was safe, and where a pledge was allowable. The President even trusted him with the unfinished manuscript of the Inaugural Address, which Ratcliffe returned to him the next day with such notes and suggestions as left nothing to be done beyond copying them out in a fair hand. With all this, he proved himself a very agreeable companion. He talked well and enlivened the work; he was not a hard taskmaster, and when he saw that the President was tired, he boldly asserted that there was no more business that could not as well wait a day, and so took the weary Stone-cutter out to drive for a couple of hours, and let him go peacefully to sleep in the carriage. They dined together and Ratcliffe took care to send for Tom Lord to amuse them, for Tom was a wit and a humourist, and kept the President in a laugh. Mr. Lord ordered the dinner and chose the wines. He could be coarse enough to suit even the President's palate, and Ratcliffe was not behindhand. When the new Secretary went away at ten o'clock that night, his chief; who was in high good humour with his dinner, his champagne, and his conversation, swore with some unnecessary granite oaths, that Ratcliffe was "a clever fellow anyhow," and he was glad "that job was fixed."

The truth was that Ratcliffe had now precisely ten days before the new Cabinet could be set in motion, and in these ten days he must establish his authority over the President so firmly that nothing could shake it. He was diligent in good works. Very soon the court began to feel his hand. If a business letter or a written memorial came in, the President found it easy to endorse: "Referred to the Secretary of the Treasury." If a visitor wanted anything for himself or another, the invariable reply came to be: "Just mention it to Mr. Ratcliffe;" or, "I guess Ratcliffe will see to that."

Before long he even made jokes in a Catonian manner; jokes that were not peculiarly witty, but somewhat gruff and boorish, yet significant of a resigned and self-contented mind. One morning he ordered Ratcliffe to take an iron-clad ship of war and attack the Sioux in Montana, seeing that he was in charge of the army and navy and Indians at once, and Jack of all trades; and again he told a naval officer who wanted a court-martial that he had better get Ratcliffe to sit on him for he was a whole court-martial by himself. That Ratcliffe held his chief in no less contempt than before, was probable but not certain, for he kept silence on the subject before the world, and looked solemn whenever the President was mentioned.

Before three days were over, the President, with a little more than his usual abruptness, suddenly asked him what he knew about this fellow Carson, whom the Pennsylvanians were bothering him to put in his Cabinet. Ratcliffe was guarded: he scarcely knew the man; Mr. Carson was not in politics, he believed, but was pretty respectable--for a Pennsylvanian. The President returned to the subject several times; got out his list of Cabinet officers and figured industriously upon it with a rather perplexed face; called Ratcliffe to help him; and at last the "slate" was fairly broken, and Ratcliffe's eyes gleamed when the President caused his list of nominations to be sent to the Senate on the 5th March, and Josiah B. Carson, of Pennsylvania, was promptly confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.

But his eyes gleamed still more humorously when, a few days afterwards, the President gave him a long list of some two score names, and asked him to find places for them. He assented good-naturedly, with a remark that it might be necessary to make a few removals to provide for these cases.

"Oh, well," said the President, "I guess there's just about as many as that had ought to go out anyway. These are friends of mine; got to be looked after. Just stuff 'em in somewhere."

Even he felt a little awkward about it, and, to do him justice, this was the last that was heard about the fundamental rule of his administration.

Removals were fast and furious, until all Indiana became easy in circumstances. And it was not to be denied that, by one means or another, Ratcliffe's friends did come into their fair share of the public money.

Perhaps the President thought it best to wink at such use of the Treasury patronage for the present, or was already a little overawed by his Secretary.

Ratcliffe's work was done. The public had, with the help of some clever intrigue, driven its servants into the traces. Even an Indiana stone-cutter could be taught that his personal prejudices must yield to the public service. What mischief the selfishness, the ambition, or the ignorance of these men might do, was another matter. As the affair stood, the President was the victim of his own schemes. It remained to be seen whether, at some future day, Mr. Ratcliffe would think it worth his while to strangle his chief by some quiet Eastern intrigue, but the time had gone by when the President could make use of either the bow-string or the axe upon him.

All this passed while Mrs. Lee was quietly puzzling her poor little brain about her duty and her responsibility to Ratcliffe, who, meanwhile, rarely failed to find himself on Sunday evenings by her side in her parlour, where his rights were now so well established that no one presumed to contest his seat, unless it were old Jacobi, who from time to time reminded him that he was fallible and mortal. Occasionally, though not often, Mr. Ratcliffe came at other times, as when he persuaded Mrs. Lee to be present at the Inauguration, and to call on the President's wife. Madeleine and Sybil went to the Capitol and had the best places to see and hear the Inauguration, as well as a cold March wind would allow. Mrs. Lee found fault with the ceremony; it was of the earth, earthy, she said. An elderly western farmer, with silver spectacles, new and glossy evening clothes, bony features, and stiff; thin, gray hair, trying to address a large crowd of people, under the drawbacks of a piercing wind and a cold in his head, was not a hero. Sybil's mind was lost in wondering whether the President would not soon die of pneumonia. Even this experience, however, was happy when compared with that of the call upon the President's wife, after which Madeleine decided to leave the new dynasty alone in future. The lady, who was somewhat stout and coarse-featured, and whom Mrs. Lee declared she wouldn't engage as a cook, showed qualities which, seen under that fierce light which beats upon a throne, seemed ungracious. Her antipathy to Ratcliffe was more violent than her husband's, and was even more openly expressed, until the President was quite put out of countenance by it. She extended her hostility to every one who could be supposed to be Ratcliffe's friend, and the newspapers, as well as private gossip, had marked out Mrs. Lee as one who, by an alliance with Ratcliffe, was aiming at supplanting her own rule over the White House.

Hence, when Mrs. Lightfoot Lee was announced, and the two sisters were ushered into the presidential parlour, she put on a coldly patronizing air, and in reply to Madeleine's hope that she found Washington agreeable, she intimated that there was much in Washington which struck her as awful wicked, especially the women; and, looking at Sybil, she spoke of the style of dress in this city which she said she meant to do what she could to put a stop to. She'd heard tell that people sent to Paris for their gowns, just as though America wasn't good enough to make one's clothes! Jacob (all Presidents' wives speak of their husbands by their first names) had promised her to get a law passed against it. In her town in Indiana, a young woman who was seen on the street in such clothes wouldn't be spoken to. At these remarks, made with an air and in a temper quite unmistakable, Madeleine became exasperated beyond measure, and said that "Washington would be pleased to see the President do something in regard to dress-reform--or any other reform;" and with this allusion to the President's ante-election reform speeches, Mrs. Lee turned her back and left the room, followed by Sybil in convulsions of suppressed laughter, which would not have been suppressed had she seen the face of their hostess as the door shut behind them, and the energy with which she shook her head and said: "See if I don't reform you yet, you--jade!"

Mrs. Lee gave Ratcliffe a lively account of this interview, and he laughed nearly as convulsively as Sybil over it, though he tried to pacify her by saying that the President's most intimate friends openly declared his wife to be insane, and that he himself was the person most afraid of her. But Mrs. Lee declared that the President was as bad as his wife; that an equally good President and President's wife could be picked up in any corner-grocery between the Lakes and the Ohio; and that no inducement should ever make her go near that coarse washerwoman again.

Ratcliffe did not attempt to change Mrs. Lee's opinion. Indeed he knew better than any man how Presidents were made, and he had his own opinions in regard to the process as well as the fabric produced. Nothing Mrs. Lee could say now affected him. He threw off his responsibility and she found it suddenly resting on her own shoulders. When she spoke with indignation of the wholesale removals from office with which the new administration marked its advent to power, he told her the story of the President's fundamental principle, and asked her what she would have him do. "He meant to tie my hands," said Ratcliffe, "and to leave his own free, and I accepted the condition. Can I resign now on such a ground as this?" And Madeleine was obliged to agree that he could not. She had no means of knowing how many removals he made in his own interest, or how far he had outwitted the President at his own game. He stood before her a victim and a patriot. Every step he had taken had been taken with her approval. He was now in office to prevent what evil he could, not to be responsible for the evil that was done; and he honestly assured her that much worse men would come in when he went out, as the President would certainly take good care that he did go out when the moment arrived.

Mrs. Lee had the chance now to carry out her scheme in coming to Washington, for she was already deep in the mire of politics and could see with every advantage how the great machine floundered about, bespattering with mud even her own pure garments. Ratcliffe himself, since entering the Treasury, had begun to talk with a sneer of the way in which laws were made, and openly said that he wondered how government got on at all. Yet he declared still that this particular government was the highest expression of political thought. Mrs. Lee stared at him and wondered whether he knew what thought was. To her the government seemed to have less thought in it than one of Sybil's gowns, for if they, like the government, were monstrously costly, they were at least adapted to their purpose, the parts fitted together, and they were neither awkward nor unwieldy.

There was nothing very encouraging in all this, but it was better than New York. At least it gave her something to look at, and to think about. Even Lord Dunbeg preached practical philanthropy to her by the hour. Ratcliffe, too, was compelled to drag himself out of the rut of machine politics, and to justify his right of admission to her house. There Mr. French discoursed at great length, until the fourth of March sent him home to Connecticut; and he brought more than one intelligent member of Congress to Mrs. Lee's parlour. Underneath the scum floating on the surface of politics, Madeleine felt that there was a sort of healthy ocean current of honest purpose, which swept the scum before it, and kept the mass pure.

This was enough to draw her on. She reconciled herself to accepting the Ratcliffian morals, for she could see no choice. She herself had approved every step she had seen him take. She could not deny that there must be something wrong in a double standard of morality, but where was it? Mr.

Ratcliffe seemed to her to be doing good work with as pure means as he had at hand. He ought to be encouraged, not reviled. What was she that she should stand in judgment?

Others watched her progress with less satisfaction. Mr. Nathan Gore was one of these, for he came in one evening, looking much out of temper, and, sitting down by her side he said he had come to bid good-bye and to thank her for the kindness she had shown him; he was to leave Washington the next morning. She too expressed her warm regret, but added that she hoped he was only going in order to take his passage to Madrid.

He shook his head. "I am going to take my passage," said he, "but not to Madrid. The fates have cut that thread. The President does not want my services, and I can't blame him, for if our situations were reversed, I should certainly not want his. He has an Indiana friend, who, I am told, wanted to be postmaster at Indianapolis, but as this did not suit the politicians, he was bought off at the exorbitant price of the Spanish mission. But I should have no chance even if he were out of the way. The President does not approve of me. He objects to the cut of my overcoat which is unfortunately an English one. He also objects to the cut of my hair. I am afraid that his wife objects to me because I am so happy as to be thought a friend of yours."

Madeleine could only acknowledge that Mr. Gore's case was a bad one. "But after all," said she, "why should politicians be expected to love you literary gentlemen who write history. Other criminal classes are not expected to love their judges."

"No, but they have sense enough to fear them," replied Gore vindictively; "not one politician living has the brains or the art to defend his own cause. The ocean of history is foul with the carcases of such statesmen, dead and forgotten except when some historian fishes one of them up to gibbet it."

Mr. Gore was so much out of temper that after this piece of extravagance he was forced to pause a moment to recover himself. Then he went on:-- "You are perfectly right, and so is the President. I have no business to be meddling in politics. It is not my place. The next time you hear of me, I promise it shall not be as an office-seeker."

Then he rapidly changed the subject, saying that he hoped Mrs. Lee was soon going northward again, and that they might meet at Newport.

"I don't know," replied Madeleine; "the spring is pleasant here, and we shall stay till the warm weather, I think."

Mr. Gore looked grave. "And your politics!" said he; "are you satisfied with what you have seen?"

"I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and wrong. Isn't that the first step in politics?"

Mr. Gore had no mind even for serious jesting. He broke out into a long lecture which sounded like a chapter of some future history: "But Mrs. Lee, is it possible that you don't see what a wrong path you are on. If you want to know what the world is really doing to any good purpose, pass a winter at Samarcand, at Timbuctoo, but not at Washington. Be a bank-clerk, or a journeyman printer, but not a Congressman. Here you will find nothing but wasted effort and clumsy intrigue."

"Do you think it a pity for me to learn that?" asked Madeleine when his long essay was ended.

"No!" replied Gore, hesitating; "not if you do learn it. But many people never get so far, or only when too late. I shall be glad to hear that you are mistress of it and have given up reforming politics. The Spaniards have a proverb that smells of the stable, but applies to people like you and me:

The man who washes his donkey's head, loses time and soap."

Gore took his leave before Madeleine had time to grasp all the impudence of this last speech. Not until she was fairly in bed that night did it suddenly flash on her mind that Mr. Gore had dared to caricature her as wasting time and soap on Mr. Ratcliffe. At first she was violently angry and then she laughed in spite of herself; there was truth in the portrait. In secret, too, she was the less offended because she half thought that it had depended only on herself to make of Mr. Gore something more than a friend. If she had overheard his parting words to Carrington, she would have had still more reason to think that a little jealousy of Ratcliffe's success sharpened the barb of Gore's enmity.

"Take care of Ratcliffe!" was his farewell; "he is a clever dog. He has set his mark on Mrs. Lee. Look out that he doesn't walk off with her!"

A little startled by this sudden confidence, Carrington could only ask what he could do to prevent it.

"Cats that go ratting, don't wear gloves," replied Gore, who always carried a Spanish proverb in his pocket. Carrington, after painful reflection, could only guess that he wanted Ratcliffe's enemies to show their claws. But how?

Mrs. Lee not long afterwards spoke to Ratcliffe of her regret at Gore's disappointment and hinted at his disgust. Ratcliffe replied that he had done what he could for Gore, and had introduced him to the President, who, after seeing him, had sworn his usual granitic oath that he would sooner send his nigger farm-hand Jake to Spain than that man-milliner. "You know how I stand;" added Ratcliffe; "what more could I do?" And Mrs. Lee's implied reproach was silenced.

If Gore was little pleased with Ratcliffe's conduct, poor Schneidekoupon was still less so. He turned up again at Washington not long after the Inauguration and had a private interview with the Secretary of the Treasury.

What passed at it was known only to themselves, but, whatever it was, Schneidekoupon's temper was none the better for it. From his conversations with Sybil, it seemed that there was some question about appointments in which his protectionist friends were interested, and he talked very openly about Ratcliffe's want of good faith, and how he had promised everything to everybody and had failed to keep a single pledge; if Schneidekoupon's advice had been taken, this wouldn't have happened. Mrs. Lee told Ratcliffe that Schneidekoupon seemed out of temper, and asked the reason. He only laughed and evaded the question, remarking that cattle of this kind were always complaining unless they were allowed to run the whole government; Schneidekoupon had nothing to grumble about; no one had ever made any promises to him. But nevertheless Schneidekoupon confided to Sybil his antipathy to Ratcliffe and solemnly begged her not to let Mrs. Lee fall into his hands, to which Sybil answered tartly that she only wished Mr.

Schneidekoupon would tell her how to help it.

The reformer French had also been one of Ratcliffe's backers in the fight over the Treasury. He remained in Washington a few days after the Inauguration, and then disappeared, leaving cards with P.P.C. in the corner, at Mrs. Lee's door. Rumour said that he too was disappointed, but he kept his own counsel, and, if he really wanted the mission to Belgium, he contented himself with waiting for it. A respectable stage-coach proprietor from Oregon got the place.

As for Jacobi, who was not disappointed, and who had nothing to ask for, he was bitterest of all. He formally offered his congratulations to Ratcliffe on his appointment. This little scene occurred in Mrs. Lee's parlour. The old Baron, with his most suave manner, and his most Voltairean leer, said that in all his experience, and he had seen a great many court intrigues, he had never seen anything better managed than that about the Treasury.

Ratcliffe was furiously angry, and told the Baron outright that foreign ministers who insulted the governments to which they were accredited ran a risk of being sent home.

"Ce serait toujours un pis aller," said Jacobi, seating himself with calmness in Ratcliffe's favourite chair by Mrs. Lee's side.

Madeleine, alarmed as she was, could not help interposing, and hastily asked whether that remark was translatable.

"Ah!" said the Baron; "I can do nothing with your language. You would only say that it was a choice of evils, to go, or to stay."

"We might translate it by saying: 'One may go farther and fare worse,'"

rejoined Madeleine; and so the storm blew over for the time, and Ratcliffe sulkily let the subject drop. Nevertheless the two men never met in Mrs.

Lee's parlour without her dreading a personal altercation. Little by little, what with Jacobi's sarcasms and Ratcliffe's roughness, they nearly ceased to speak, and glared at each other like quarrelsome dogs. Madeleine was driven to all kinds of expedients to keep the peace, yet at the same time she could not but be greatly amused by their behaviour, and as their hatred of each other only stimulated their devotion to her, she was content to hold an even balance between them.

Nor were these all the awkward consequences of Ratcliffe's attentions. Now that he was distinctly recognized as an intimate friend of Mrs. Lee's, and possibly her future husband, no one ventured any longer to attack him in her presence, but nevertheless she was conscious in a thousand ways that the atmosphere became more and more dense under the shadow of the Secretary of the Treasury. In spite of herself she sometimes felt uneasy, as though there were conspiracy in the air. One March afternoon she was sitting by her fire, with an English Review in her hand, trying to read the last Symposium on the sympathies of Eternal Punishment, when her servant brought in a card, and Mrs. Lee had barely time to read the name of Mrs. Samuel Baker when that lady followed the servant into the room, forcing the countersign in so effective style that for once Madeleine was fairly disconcerted. Her manner when thus intruded upon, was cool, but in this case, on Carrington's account, she tried to smile courteously and asked her visitor to sit down, which Mrs. Baker was doing without an invitation, very soon putting her hostess entirely at her ease. She was, when seen without her veil, a showy woman verging on forty, decidedly large, tall, over-dressed even in mourning, and with a complexion rather fresher than nature had made it.

There was a geniality in her address, savouring of easy Washington ways, a fruitiness of smile, and a rich southern accent, that explained on the spot her success in the lobby. She looked about her with fine self-possession, and approved Mrs. Lee's surroundings with a cordiality so different from the northern stinginess of praise, that Madeleine was rather pleased than offended. Yet when her eye rested on the Corot, Madeleine's only pride, she was evidently perplexed, and resorted to eye-glasses, in order, as it seemed, to gain time for reflection. But she was not to be disconcerted even by Corot's masterpiece:

"How pretty! Japanese, isn't it? Sea-weeds seen through a fog. I went to an auction yesterday, and do you know I bought a tea-pot with a picture just like that."

Madeleine inquired with extreme interest about the auction, but after learning all that Mrs. Baker had to tell, she was on the point of being reduced to silence, when she bethought herself to mention Carrington. Mrs.

Baker brightened up at once, if she could be said to brighten where there was no sign of dimness:

"Dear Mr. Carrington! Isn't he sweet? I think he's a delicious man. I don't know what I should do without him. Since poor Mr. Baker left me, we have been together all the time. You know my poor husband left directions that all his papers should be burned, and though I would not say so unless you were such a friend of Mr. Carrington's, I reckon it's just as well for some people that he did. I never could tell you what quantities of papers Mr.

Carrington and I have put in the fire; and we read them all too."

Madeleine asked whether this was not dull work.

"Oh, dear, no! You see I know all about it, and told Mr. Carrington the story of every paper as we went on. It was quite amusing, I assure you."

Mrs. Lee then boldly said she had got from Mr. Carrington an idea that Mrs.

Baker was a very skilful diplomatist.

"Diplomatist!" echoed the widow with her genial laugh; "Well! it was as much that as anything, but there's not many diplomatists' wives in this city ever did as much work as I used to do. Why, I knew half the members of Congress intimately, and all of them by sight. I knew where they came from and what they liked best. I could get round the greater part of them, sooner or later."

Mrs. Lee asked what she did with all this knowledge. Mrs. Baker shook her pink-and-white countenance, and almost paralysed her opposite neighbour by a sort of Grande Duchesse wink:

"Oh, my dear! you are new here. If you had seen Washington in war-times and for a few years afterwards, you wouldn't ask that. We had more congressional business than all the other agents put together. Every one came to us then, to get his bill through, or his appropriation watched. We were hard at work all the time. You see, one can't keep the run of three hundred men without some trouble. My husband used to make lists of them in books with a history of each man and all he could learn about him, but I carried it all in my head."

"Do you mean that you could get them all to vote as you pleased?" asked Madeleine.

"Well! we got our bills through," replied Mrs. Baker.

"But how did you do it? did they take bribes?"

"Some of them did. Some of them liked suppers and cards and theatres and all sorts of things. Some of them could be led, and some had to be driven like Paddy's pig who thought he was going the other way. Some of them had wives who could talk to them, and some--hadn't," said Mrs. Baker, with a queer intonation in her abrupt ending.

"But surely," said Mrs. Lee, "many of them must have been above--I mean, they must have had nothing to get hold of; so that you could manage them."

Mrs. Baker laughed cheerfully and remarked that they were very much of a muchness.

"But I can't understand how you did it," urged Madeleine; "now, how would you have gone to work to get a respectable senator's vote--a man like Mr.

Ratcliffe, for instance?"

"Ratcliffe!" repeated Mrs. Baker with a slight elevation of voice that gave way to a patronising laugh. "Oh, my dear! don't mention names. I should get into trouble. Senator Ratcliffe was a good friend of my husband's. I guess Mr. Carrington could have told you that. But you see, what we generally wanted was all right enough. We had to know where our bills were, and jog people's elbows to get them reported in time. Sometimes we had to convince them that our bill was a proper one, and they ought to vote for it. Only now and then, when there was a great deal of money and the vote was close, we had to find out what votes were worth. It was mostly dining and talking, calling them out into the lobby or asking them to supper. I wish I could tell you things I have seen, but I don't dare. It wouldn't be safe. I've told you already more than I ever said to any one else; but then you are so intimate with Mr. Carrington, that I always think of you as an old friend."

Thus Mrs. Baker rippled on, while Mrs. Lee listened with more and more doubt and disgust. The woman was showy, handsome in a coarse style, and perfectly presentable. Mrs. Lee had seen Duchesses as vulgar. She knew more about the practical working of government than Mrs. Lee could ever expect or hope to know. Why then draw back from this interesting lobbyist with such babyish repulsion?

When, after a long, and, as she declared, a most charming call, Mrs. Baker wended her way elsewhere and Madeleine had given the strictest order that she should never be admitted again, Carrington entered, and Madeleine showed him Mrs. Baker's card and gave a lively account of the interview.

"What shall I do with the woman?" she asked; "must I return her card?" But Carrington declined to offer advice on this interesting point. "And she says that Mr. Ratcliffe was a friend of her husband's and that you could tell me about that."

"Did she say so?" remarked Carrington vaguely.

"Yes! and that she knew every one's weak points and could get all their votes."

Carrington expressed no surprise, and so evidently preferred to change the subject, that Mrs. Lee desisted and said no more.

But she determined to try the same experiment on Mr. Ratcliffe, and chose the very next chance that offered. In her most indifferent manner she remarked that Mrs. Sam Baker had called upon her and had initiated her into the mysteries of the lobby till she had become quite ambitious to start on that career.

"She said you were a friend of her husband's," added Madeleine softly.

Ratcliffe's face betrayed no sign.

"If you believe what those people tell you," said he drily, "you will be wiser than the Queen of Sheba."

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 12:25 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 7

 

 

When he reached his rooms that afternoon, Senator Ratcliffe found there, as he expected, a choice company of friends and admirers, who had beguiled their leisure hours since noon by cursing him in every variety of profane language that experience could suggest and impatience stimulate. On his part, had he consulted his own feelings only, he would then and there have turned them out, and locked the doors behind them. So far as silent maledictions were concerned, no profanity of theirs could hold its own against the intensity and deliberation with which, as he found himself approaching his own door, he expressed between his teeth his views in respect to their eternal interests. Nothing could be less suited to his present humour than the society which awaited him in his rooms. He groaned in spirit as he sat down at his writing-table and looked about him. Dozens of office-seekers were besieging the house; men whose patriotic services in the last election called loudly for recognition from a grateful country.

They brought their applications to the Senator with an entreaty that he would endorse and take charge of them. Several members and senators who felt that Ratcliffe had no reason for existence except to fight their battle for patronage, were lounging about his room, reading newspapers, or beguiling their time with tobacco in various forms; at long intervals making dull remarks, as though they were more weary than their constituents of the atmosphere that surrounds the grandest government the sun ever shone upon.

Several newspaper correspondents, eager to barter their news for Ratcliffe's hints or suggestions, appeared from time to time on the scene, and, dropping into a chair by Ratcliffe's desk, whispered with him in mysterious tones.

Thus the Senator worked on, hour after hour, mechanically doing what was required of him, signing papers without reading them, answering remarks without hearing them, hardly looking up from his desk, and appearing immersed in labour. This was his protection against curiosity and garrulity.

The pretence of work was the curtain he drew between himself and the world.

Behind this curtain his mental operations went on, undisturbed by what was about him, while he heard all that was said, and said little or nothing himself. His followers respected this privacy, and left him alone. He was their prophet, and had a right to seclusion. He was their chieftain, and while he sat in his monosyllabic solitude, his ragged tail reclined in various attitudes about him, and occasionally one man spoke, or another swore. Newspapers and tobacco were their resource in periods of absolute silence.

A shade of depression rested on the faces and the voices of Clan Ratcliffe that evening, as is not unusual with forces on the eve of battle. Their remarks came at longer intervals, and were more pointless and random than usual. There was a want of elasticity in their bearing and tone, partly coming from sympathy with the evident depression of their chief; partly from the portents of the time. The President was to arrive within forty-eight hours, and as yet there was no sign that he properly appreciated their services; there were signs only too unmistakeable that he was painfully misled and deluded, that his countenance was turned wholly in another direction, and that all their sacrifices were counted as worthless. There was reason to believe that he came with a deliberate purpose of making war upon Ratcliffe and breaking him down; of refusing to bestow patronage on them, and of bestowing it wherever it would injure them most deeply. At the thought that their honestly earned harvest of foreign missions and consulates, department-bureaus, custom-house and revenue offices, postmasterships, Indian agencies, and army and navy contracts, might now be wrung from their grasp by the selfish greed of a mere accidental intruder--a man whom nobody wanted and every one ridiculed--their natures rebelled, and they felt that such things must not be; that there could be no more hope for democratic government if such things were possible. At this point they invariably became excited, lost their equanimity, and swore. Then they fell back on their faith in Ratcliffe: if any man could pull them through, he could; after all, the President must first reckon with him, and he was an uncommon tough customer to tackle.

Perhaps, however, even their faith in Ratcliffe might have been shaken, could they at that moment have looked into his mind and understood what was passing there. Ratcliffe was a man vastly their superior, and he knew it. He lived in a world of his own and had instincts of refinement. Whenever his affairs went unfavourably, these instincts revived, and for the time swept all his nature with them. He was now filled with disgust and cynical contempt for every form of politics. During long years he had done his best for his party; he had sold himself to the devil, coined his heart's blood, toiled with a dogged persistence that no day-labourer ever conceived; and all for what? To be rejected as its candidate; to be put under the harrow of a small Indiana farmer who made no secret of the intention to "corral" him, and, as he elegantly expressed it, to "take his hide and tallow." Ratcliffe had no great fear of losing his hide, but he felt aggrieved that he should be called upon to defend it, and that this should be the result of twenty years' devotion. Like most men in the same place, he did not stop to cast up both columns of his account with the party, nor to ask himself the question that lay at the heart of his grievance: How far had he served his party and how far himself? He was in no humour for self-analysis: this requires more repose of mind than he could then command. As for the President, from whom he had not heard a whisper since the insolent letter to Grimes, which he had taken care not to show, the Senator felt only a strong impulse to teach him better sense and better manners. But as for political life, the events of the last six months were calculated to make any man doubt its value. He was quite out of sympathy with it. He hated the sight of his tobacco-chewing, newspaper-reading satellites, with their hats tipped at every angle except the right one, and their feet everywhere except on the floor. Their conversation bored him and their presence was a nuisance. He would not submit to this slavery longer. He would have given his Senatorship for a civilized house like Mrs. Lee's, with a woman like Mrs. Lee at its head, and twenty thousand a year for life. He smiled his only smile that evening when he thought how rapidly she would rout every man Jack of his political following out of her parlours, and how meekly they would submit to banishment into a back-office with an oil-cloth carpet and two cane chairs.

He felt that Mrs. Lee was more necessary to him than the Presidency itself; he could not go on without her; he needed human companionship; some Christian comfort for his old age; some avenue of communication with that social world, which made his present surroundings look cold and foul; some touch of that refinement of mind and morals beside which his own seemed coarse. He felt unutterably lonely. He wished Mrs. Lee had asked him home to dinner; but Mrs. Lee had gone to bed with a headache. He should not see her again for a week. Then his mind turned back upon their morning at Mount Vernon, and bethinking himself of Mrs. Sam Baker, he took a sheet of note-paper, and wrote a line to Wilson Keen, Esq., at Georgetown, requesting him to call, if possible, the next morning towards one o'clock at the Senator's rooms on a matter of business. Wilson Keen was chief of the Secret Service Bureau in the Treasury Department, and, as the depositary of all secrets, was often called upon for assistance which he was very good-natured in furnishing to senators, especially if they were likely to be Secretaries of the Treasury.

This note despatched, Mr. Ratcliffe fell back into his reflective mood, which led him apparently into still lower depths of discontent until, with a muttered oath, he swore he could "stand no more of this," and, suddenly rising, he informed his visitors that he was sorry to leave them, but he felt rather poorly and was going to bed; and to bed he went, while his guests departed, each as his business or desires might point him, some to drink whiskey and some to repose.

On Sunday morning Mr. Ratcliffe, as usual, went to church. He always attended morning service--at the Methodist Episcopal Church--not wholly on the ground of religious conviction, but because a large number of his constituents were church-going people and he would not willingly shock their principles so long as he needed their votes. In church, he kept his eyes closely fixed upon the clergyman, and at the end of the sermon he could say with truth that he had not heard a word of it, although the respectable minister was gratified by the attention his discourse had received from the Senator from Illinois, an attention all the more praiseworthy because of the engrossing public cares which must at that moment have distracted the Senator's mind. In this last idea, the minister was right. Mr. Ratcliffe's mind was greatly distracted by public cares, and one of his strongest reasons for going to church at all was that he might get an hour or two of undisturbed reflection. During the entire service he was absorbed in carrying on a series of imaginary conversations with the new President. He brought up in succession every form of proposition which the President might make to him; every trap which could be laid for him; every sort of treatment he might expect, so that he could not be taken by surprise, and his frank, simple nature could never be at a loss. One object, however, long escaped him. Supposing, what was more than probable, that the President's opposition to Ratcliffe's declared friends made it impossible to force any of them into office; it would then be necessary to try some new man, not obnoxious to the President, as a candidate for the Cabinet. Who should this be? Ratcliffe pondered long and deeply, searching out a man who combined the most powerful interests, with the fewest enmities. This subject was still uppermost at the moment when service ended. Ratcliffe pondered over it as he walked back to his rooms. Not until he reached his own door did he come to a conclusion:

Carson would do; Carson of Pennsylvania; the President had probably never heard of him.

Mr. Wilson Keen was waiting the Senator's return, a heavy man with a square face, and good-natured, active blue eyes; a man of few words and those well-considered. The interview was brief. After apologising for breaking in upon Sunday with business, Mr. Ratcliffe excused himself on the ground that so little time was left before the close of the session. A bill now before one of his Committees, on which a report must soon be made, involved matters to which it was believed that the late Samuel Baker, formerly a well-known lobby-agent in Washington, held the only clue. He being dead, Mr. Ratcliffe wished to know whether he had left any papers behind him, and in whose hands these papers were, or whether any partner or associate of his was acquainted with his affairs.

Mr. Keen made a note of the request, merely remarking that he had been very well acquainted with Baker, and also a little with his wife, who was supposed to know his affairs as well as he knew them himself; and who was still in Washington. He thought he could bring the information in a day or two. As he then rose to go, Mr. Ratcliffe added that entire secrecy was necessary, as the interests involved in obstructing the search were considerable, and it was not well to wake them up. Mr. Keen assented and went his way.

All this was natural enough and entirely proper, at least so far as appeared on the surface. Had Mr. Keen been so curious in other people's affairs as to look for the particular legislative measure which lay at the bottom of Mr.

Ratcliffe's inquiries, he might have searched among the papers of Congress a very long time and found himself greatly puzzled at last. In fact there was no measure of the kind. The whole story was a fiction. Mr. Ratcliffe had scarcely thought of Baker since his death, until the day before, when he had seen his widow on the Mount Vernon steamer and had found her in relations with Carrington. Something in Carrington's habitual attitude and manner towards himself had long struck him as peculiar, and this connection with Mrs. Baker had suggested to the Senator the idea that it might be well to have an eye on both. Mrs. Baker was a silly woman, as he knew, and there were old transactions between Ratcliffe and Baker of which she might be informed, but which Ratcliffe had no wish to see brought within Mrs. Lee's ken. As for the fiction invented to set Keen in motion, it was an innocent one. It harmed nobody. Ratcliffe selected this particular method of inquiry because it was the easiest, safest, and most effectual. If he were always to wait until he could afford to tell the precise truth, business would very soon be at a standstill, and his career at an end.

This little matter disposed of; the Senator from Illinois passed his afternoon in calling upon some of his brother senators, and the first of those whom he honoured with a visit was Mr. Krebs, of Pennsylvania. There were many reasons which now made the co-operation of that high-minded statesman essential to Mr. Ratcliffe. The strongest of them was that the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress was well disciplined and could be used with peculiar advantage for purposes of "pressure." Ratcliffe's success in his contest with the new President depended on the amount of "pressure" he could employ. To keep himself in the background, and to fling over the head of the raw Chief Magistrate a web of intertwined influences, any one of which alone would be useless, but which taken together were not to be broken through; to revive the lost art of the Roman retiarius, who from a safe distance threw his net over his adversary, before attacking with the dagger; this was Ratcliffe's intention and towards this he had been directing all his manipulation for weeks past. How much bargaining and how many promises he found it necessary to make, was known to himself alone. About this time Mrs. Lee was a little surprised to find Mr. Gore speaking with entire confidence of having Ratcliffe's support in his application for the Spanish mission, for she had rather imagined that Gore was not a favourite with Ratcliffe. She noticed too that Schneidekoupon had come back again and spoke mysteriously of interviews with Ratcliffe; of attempts to unite the interests of New York and Pennsylvania; and his countenance took on a dark and dramatic expression as he proclaimed that no sacrifice of the principle of protection should be tolerated. Schneidekoupon disappeared as suddenly as he came, and from Sybil's innocent complaints of his spirits and temper, Mrs. Lee jumped to the conclusion that Mr. Ratcliffe, Mr. Clinton, and Mr.

Krebs had for the moment combined to sit heavily upon poor Schneidekoupon, and to remove his disturbing influence from the scene, at least until other men should get what they wanted. These were merely the trifling incidents that fell within Mrs. Lee's observation. She felt an atmosphere of bargain and intrigue, but she could only imagine how far it extended. Even Carrington, when she spoke to him about it, only laughed and shook his head:

"Those matters are private, my dear Mrs. Lee; you and I are not meant to know such things."

This Sunday afternoon Mr. Ratcliffe's object was to arrange the little manoeuvre about Carson of Pennsylvania, which had disturbed him in church.

His efforts were crowned with success. Krebs accepted Carson and promised to bring him forward at ten minutes' notice, should the emergency arise.

Ratcliffe was a great statesman. The smoothness of his manipulation was marvellous. No other man in politics, indeed no other man who had ever been in politics in this country, could--his admirers said--have brought together so many hostile interests and made so fantastic a combination. Some men went so far as to maintain that he would "rope in the President himself before the old man had time to swap knives with him." The beauty of his work consisted in the skill with which he evaded questions of principle. As he wisely said, the issue now involved was not one of principle but of power.

The fate of that noble party to which they all belonged, and which had a record that could never be forgotten, depended on their letting principle alone. Their principle must be the want of principles. There were indeed individuals who said in reply that Ratcliffe had made promises which never could be carried out, and there were almost superhuman elements of discord in the combination, but as Ratcliffe shrewdly rejoined, he only wanted it to last a week, and he guessed his promises would hold it up for that time.

Such was the situation when on Monday afternoon the President-elect arrived in Washington, and the comedy began. The new President was, almost as much as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Pierce, an unknown quantity in political mathematics. In the national convention of the party, nine months before, after some dozens of fruitless ballots in which Ratcliffe wanted but three votes of a majority, his opponents had done what he was now doing; they had laid aside their principles and set up for their candidate a plain Indiana farmer, whose political experience was limited to stump-speaking in his native State, and to one term as Governor. They had pitched upon him, not because they thought him competent, but because they hoped by doing so to detach Indiana from Ratcliffe's following, and they were so successful that within fifteen minutes Ratcliffe's friends were routed, and the Presidency had fallen upon this new political Buddha.

He had begun his career as a stone-cutter in a quarry, and was, not unreasonably, proud of the fact. During the campaign this incident had, of course, filled a large space in the public mind, or, more exactly, in the public eye. "The Stone-cutter of the Wabash," he was sometimes called; at others "the Hoosier Quarryman," but his favourite appellation was "Old Granite," although this last endearing name, owing to an unfortunate similarity of sound, was seized upon by his opponents, and distorted into "Old Granny." He had been painted on many thousand yards of cotton sheeting, either with a terrific sledge-hammer, smashing the skulls (which figured as paving-stones) of his political opponents, or splitting by gigantic blows a huge rock typical of the opposing party. His opponents in their turn had paraded illuminations representing the Quarryman in the garb of a State's-prison convict breaking the heads of Ratcliffe and other well-known political leaders with a very feeble hammer, or as "Old Granny" in pauper's rags, hopelessly repairing with the same heads the impossible roads which typified the ill-conditioned and miry ways of his party. But these violations of decency and good sense were universally reproved by the virtuous; and it was remarked with satisfaction that the purest and most highly cultivated newspaper editors on his side, without excepting those of Boston itself; agreed with one voice that the Stone-cutter was a noble type of man, perhaps the very noblest that had appeared to adorn this country since the incomparable Washington.

That he was honest, all admitted; that is to say, all who voted for him.

This is a general characteristic of all new presidents. He himself took great pride in his home-spun honesty, which is a quality peculiar to nature's noblemen. Owing nothing, as he conceived, to politicians, but sympathising through every fibre of his unselfish nature with the impulses and aspirations of the people, he affirmed it to be his first duty to protect the people from those vultures, as he called them, those wolves in sheep's clothing, those harpies, those hyenas, the politicians; epithets which, as generally interpreted, meant Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe's friends.

His cardinal principle in politics was hostility to Ratcliffe, yet he was not vindictive. He came to Washington determined to be the Father of his country; to gain a proud immortality and a re-election.

Upon this gentleman Ratcliffe had let loose all the forms of "pressure"

which could be set in motion either in or out of Washington. From the moment when he had left his humble cottage in Southern Indiana, he had been captured by Ratcliffe's friends, and smothered in demonstrations of affection. They had never allowed him to suggest the possibility of ill-feeling. They had assumed as a matter of course that the most cordial attachment existed between him and his party. On his arrival in Washington they systematically cut him off from contact with any influences but their own. This was not a very difficult thing to do, for great as he was, he liked to be told of his greatness, and they made him feel himself a colossus. Even the few personal friends in his company were manipulated with the utmost care, and their weaknesses put to use before they had been in Washington a single day.

Not that Ratcliffe had anything to do with all this underhand and grovelling intrigue. Mr. Ratcliffe was a man of dignity and self-respect, who left details to his subordinates. He waited calmly until the President, recovered from the fatigues of his journey, should begin to feel the effect of a Washington atmosphere. Then on Wednesday morning, Mr. Ratcliffe left his rooms an hour earlier than usual on his way to the Senate, and called at the President's Hotel: he was ushered into a large apartment in which the new Chief Magistrate was holding court, although at sight of Ratcliffe, the other visitors edged away or took their hats and left the room. The President proved to be a hard-featured man of sixty, with a hooked nose and thin, straight, iron-gray hair. His voice was rougher than his features and he received Ratcliffe awkwardly. He had suffered since his departure from Indiana. Out there it had seemed a mere flea-bite, as he expressed it, to brush Ratcliffe aside, but in Washington the thing was somehow different.

Even his own Indiana friends looked grave when he talked of it, and shook their heads. They advised him to be cautious and gain time; to lead Ratcliffe on, and if possible to throw on him the responsibility of a quarrel. He was, therefore, like a brown bear undergoing the process of taming; very ill-tempered, very rough, and at the same time very much bewildered and a little frightened. Ratcliffe sat ten minutes with him, and obtained information in regard to pains which the President had suffered during the previous night, in consequence, as he believed, of an over-indulgence in fresh lobster, a luxury in which he had found a diversion from the cares of state. So soon as this matter was explained and condoled upon, Ratcliffe rose and took leave.

Every device known to politicians was now in full play against the Hoosier Quarryman. State delegations with contradictory requests were poured in upon him, among which that of Massachusetts presented as its only prayer the appointment of Mr. Gore to the Spanish mission. Difficulties were invented to embarrass and worry him. False leads were suggested, and false information carefully mingled with true. A wild dance was kept up under his eyes from daylight to midnight, until his brain reeled with the effort to follow it. Means were also found to convert one of his personal, confidential friends, who had come with him from Indiana and who had more brains or less principle than the others; from him every word of the President was brought directly to Ratcliffe's ear.

Early on Friday morning, Mr. Thomas Lord, a rival of the late Samuel Baker, and heir to his triumphs, appeared in Ratcliffe's rooms while the Senator was consuming his lonely egg and chop. Mr. Lord had been chosen to take general charge of the presidential party and to direct all matters connected with Ratcliffe's interests. Some people might consider this the work of a spy; he looked on it as a public duty. He reported that "Old Granny" had at last shown signs of weakness. Late the previous evening when, according to his custom, he was smoking his pipe in company with his kitchen-cabinet of followers, he had again fallen upon the subject of Ratcliffe, and with a volley of oaths had sworn that he would show him his place yet, and that he meant to offer him a seat in the Cabinet that would make him "sicker than a stuck hog." From this remark and some explanatory hints that followed, it seemed that the Quarryman had abandoned his scheme of putting Ratcliffe to immediate political death, and had now undertaken to invite him into a Cabinet which was to be specially constructed to thwart and humiliate him.

The President, it appeared, warmly applauded the remark of one counsellor, that Ratcliffe was safer in the Cabinet than in the Senate, and that it would be easy to kick him out when the time came.

Ratcliffe smiled grimly as Mr. Lord, with much clever mimicry, described the President's peculiarities of language and manner, but he said nothing and waited for the event. The same evening came a note from the President's private secretary requesting his attendance, if possible, to-morrow, Saturday morning, at ten o'clock. The note was curt and cool. Ratcliffe merely sent back word that he would come, and felt a little regret that the President should not know enough etiquette to understand that this verbal answer was intended as a hint to improve his manners. He did come accordingly, and found the President looking blacker than before. This time there was no avoiding of tender subjects. The President meant to show Ratcliffe by the decision of his course, that he was master of the situation. He broke at once into the middle of the matter: "I sent for you,"

said he, "to consult with you about my Cabinet. Here is a list of the gentlemen I intend to invite into it. You will see that I have got you down for the Treasury. Will you look at the list and say what you think of it?"

Ratcliffe took the paper, but laid it at once on the table without looking at it. "I can have no objection," said he, "to any Cabinet you may appoint, provided I am not included in it. My wish is to remain where I am. There I can serve your administration better than in the Cabinet."

"Then you refuse?" growled the President.

"By no means. I only decline to offer any advice or even to hear the names of my proposed colleagues until it is decided that my services are necessary. If they are, I shall accept without caring with whom I serve."

The President glared at him with an uneasy look. What was to be done next?

He wanted time to think, but Ratcliffe was there and must be disposed of. He involuntarily became more civil: "Mr. Ratcliffe, your refusal would knock everything on the head. I thought that matter was all fixed. What more can I do?"

But Ratcliffe had no mind to let the President out of his clutches so easily, and a long conversation followed, during which he forced his antagonist into the position of urging him to take the Treasury in order to prevent some undefined but portentous mischief in the Senate. All that could be agreed upon was that Ratcliffe should give a positive answer within two days, and on that agreement he took his leave.

As he passed through the corridor, a number of gentlemen were waiting for interviews with the President, and among them was the whole Pennsylvania delegation, "ready for biz," as Mr. Tom Lord remarked, with a wink.

Ratcliffe drew Krebs aside and they exchanged a few words as he passed out.

Ten minutes afterwards the delegation was admitted, and some of its members were a little surprised to hear their spokesman, Senator Krebs, press with extreme earnestness and in their names, the appointment of Josiah B. Carson to a place in the Cabinet, when they had been given to understand that they came to recommend Jared Caldwell as postmaster of Philadelphia. But Pennsylvania is a great and virtuous State, whose representatives have entire confidence in their chief. Not one of them so much as winked.

The dance of democracy round the President now began again with wilder energy. Ratcliffe launched his last bolts. His two-days' delay was a mere cover for bringing new influences to bear. He needed no delay. He wanted no time for reflection. The President had undertaken to put him on the horns of a dilemma; either to force him into a hostile and treacherous Cabinet, or to throw on him the blame of a refusal and a quarrel. He meant to embrace one of the horns and to impale the President on it, and he felt perfect confidence in his own success. He meant to accept the Treasury and he was ready to back himself with a heavy wager to get the government entirely into his own hands within six weeks. His contempt for the Hoosier Stone-cutter was unbounded, and his confidence in himself more absolute than ever.

Busy as he was, the Senator made his appearance the next evening at Mrs.

Lee's, and finding her alone with Sybil, who was occupied with her own little devices, Ratcliffe told Madeleine the story of his week's experience.

He did not dwell on his exploits. On the contrary he quite ignored those elaborate arrangements which had taken from the President his power of volition. His picture presented himself; solitary and unprotected, in the character of that honest beast who was invited to dine with the lion and saw that all the footmarks of his predecessors led into the lion's cave, and none away from it. He described in humorous detail his interviews with the Indiana lion, and the particulars of the surfeit of lobster as given in the President's dialect; he even repeated to her the story told him by Mr. Tom Lord, without omitting oaths or gestures; he told her how matters stood at the moment, and how the President had laid a trap for him which he could not escape; he must either enter a Cabinet constructed on purpose to thwart him and with the certainty of ignominious dismissal at the first opportunity, or he must refuse an offer of friendship which would throw on him the blame of a quarrel, and enable the President to charge all future difficulties to the account of Ratcliffe's "insatiable ambition." "And now, Mrs. Lee," he continued, with increasing seriousness of tone; "I want your advice; what shall I do?"

Even this half revelation of the meanness which distorted politics; this one-sided view of human nature in its naked deformity playing pranks with the interests of forty million people, disgusted and depressed Madeleine's mind. Ratclife spared her nothing except the exposure of his own moral sores. He carefully called her attention to every leprous taint upon his neighbours' persons, to every rag in their foul clothing, to every slimy and fetid pool that lay beside their path. It was his way of bringing his own qualities into relief. He meant that she should go hand in hand with him through the brimstone lake, and the more repulsive it seemed to her, the more overwhelming would his superiority become. He meant to destroy those doubts of his character which Carrington was so carefully fostering, to rouse her sympathy, to stimulate her feminine sense of self-sacrifice.

When he asked this question she looked up at him with an expression of indignant pride, as she spoke:

"I say again, Mr. Ratcliffe, what I said once before. Do whatever is most for the public good."

"And what is most for the public good?"

Madeleine half opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated, and stared silently into the fire before her. What was indeed most for the public good?

Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal intrigue, this wilderness of stunted natures where no straight road was to be found, but only the tortuous and aimless tracks of beasts and things that crawl?

Where was she to look for a principle to guide, an ideal to set up and to point at?

Ratcliffe resumed his appeal, and his manner was more serious than ever.

"I am hard pressed, Mrs. Lee. My enemies encompass me about. They mean to ruin me. I honestly wish to do my duty. You once said that personal considerations should have no weight. Very well! throw them away! And now tell me what I should do."

For the first time, Mrs. Lee began to feel his power. He was simple, straightforward, earnest. His words moved her. How should she imagine that he was playing upon her sensitive nature precisely as he played upon the President's coarse one, and that this heavy western politician had the instincts of a wild Indian in their sharpness and quickness of perception; that he divined her character and read it as he read the faces and tones of thousands from day to day? She was uneasy under his eye. She began a sentence, hesitated in the middle, and broke down. She lost her command of thought, and sat dumb-founded. He had to draw her out of the confusion he had himself made.

"I see your meaning in your face. You say that I should accept the duty and disregard the consequences."

"I don't know," said Madeleine, hesitatingly; "Yes, I think that would be my feeling."

"And when I fall a sacrifice to that man's envy and intrigue, what will you think then, Mrs. Lee? Will you not join the rest of the world and say that I overreached myself; and walked into this trap with my eyes open, and for my own objects? Do you think I shall ever be thought better of; for getting caught here? I don't parade high moral views like our friend French. I won't cant about virtue. But I do claim that in my public life I have tried to do right. Will you do me the justice to think so?"

Madeleine still struggled to prevent herself from being drawn into indefinite promises of sympathy with this man. She would keep him at arm's length whatever her sympathies might be. She would not pledge herself to espouse his cause. She turned upon him with an effort, and said that her thoughts, now or at any time, were folly and nonsense, and that the consciousness of right-doing was the only reward any public man had a right to expect.

"And yet you are a hard critic, Mrs. Lee. If your thoughts are what you say, your words are not. You judge with the judgment of abstract principles, and you wield the bolts of divine justice. You look on and condemn, but you refuse to acquit. When I come to you on the verge of what is likely to be the fatal plunge of my life, and ask you only for some clue to the moral principle that ought to guide me, you look on and say that virtue is its own reward. And you do not even say where virtue lies."

"I confess my sins," said Madeleine, meekly and despondently; "life is more complicated than I thought."

"I shall be guided by your advice," said Ratcliffe; "I shall walk into that den of wild beasts, since you think I ought. But I shall hold you to your responsibility. You cannot refuse to see me through dangers you have helped to bring me into."

"No, no!" cried Madeleine, earnestly; "no responsibility. You ask more than I can give."

Ratcliffe looked at her a moment with a troubled and careworn face. His eyes seemed deep sunk in their dark circles, and his voice was pathetic in its intensity. "Duty is duty, for you as well as for me. I have a right to the help of all pure minds. You have no right to refuse it. How can you reject your own responsibility and hold me to mine?"

Almost as he spoke, he rose and took his departure, leaving her no time to do more than murmur again her ineffectual protest. After he was gone, Mrs.

Lee sat long, with her eyes fixed on the fire, reflecting upon what he had said. Her mind was bewildered by the new suggestions which Ratcliffe had thrown out. What woman of thirty, with aspirations for the infinite, could resist an attack like this? What woman with a soul could see before her the most powerful public man of her time, appealing--with a face furrowed by anxieties, and a voice vibrating with only half-suppressed affection--to her for counsel and sympathy, without yielding some response? and what woman could have helped bowing her head to that rebuke of her over-confident judgment, coming as it did from one who in the same breath appealed to that judgment as final? Ratcliffe, too, had a curious instinct for human weaknesses. No magnetic needle was ever truer than his finger when he touched the vulnerable spot in an opponent's mind. Mrs. Lee was not to be reached by an appeal to religious sentiment, to ambition, or to affection.

Any such appeal would have fallen flat on her ears and destroyed its own hopes. But she was a woman to the very last drop of her blood. She could not be induced to love Ratcliffe, but she might be deluded into sacrificing herself for him. She atoned for want of devotion to God, by devotion to man.

She had a woman's natural tendency towards asceticism, self-extinction, self-abnegation. All through life she had made painful efforts to understand and follow out her duty. Ratcliffe knew her weak point when he attacked her from this side. Like all great orators and advocates, he was an actor; the more effective because of a certain dignified air that forbade familiarity.

He had appealed to her sympathy, her sense of right and of duty, to her courage, her loyalty, her whole higher nature; and while he made this appeal he felt more than half convinced that he was all he pretended to be, and that he really had a right to her devotion. What wonder that she in her turn was more than half inclined to admit that right. She knew him now better than Carrington or Jacobi knew him. Surely a man who spoke as he spoke, had noble instincts and lofty aims? Was not his career a thousand times more important than hers? If he, in his isolation and his cares, needed her assistance, had she an excuse for refusing it? What was there in her aimless and useless life which made it so precious that she could not afford to fling it into the gutter, if need be, on the bare chance of enriching some fuller existence?

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 12:20 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 6

 

 

In February the weather became warmer and summer-like. In Virginia there comes often at this season a deceptive gleam of summer, slipping in between heavy storm-clouds of sleet and snow; days and sometimes weeks when the temperature is like June; when the earliest plants begin to show their hardy flowers, and when the bare branches of the forest trees alone protest against the conduct of the seasons. Then men and women are languid; life seems, as in Italy, sensuous and glowing with colour; one is conscious of walking in an atmosphere that is warm, palpable, radiant with possibilities; a delicate haze hangs over Arlington, and softens even the harsh white glare of the Capitol; the struggle of existence seems to abate; Lent throws its calm shadow over society; and youthful diplomatists, unconscious of their danger, are lured into asking foolish girls to marry them; the blood thaws in the heart and flows out into the veins, like the rills of sparkling water that trickle from every lump of ice or snow, as though all the ice and snow on earth, and all the hardness of heart, all the heresy and schism, all the works of the devil, had yielded to the force of love and to the fresh warmth of innocent, lamb-like, confiding virtue. In such a world there should be no guile--but there is a great deal of it notwithstanding. Indeed, at no other season is there so much. This is the moment when the two whited sepulchres at either end of the Avenue reek with the thick atmosphere of bargain and sale. The old is going; the new is coming. Wealth, office, power are at auction. Who bids highest? who hates with most venom? who intrigues with most skill? who has done the dirtiest, the meanest, the darkest, and the most, political work? He shall have his reward.

Senator Ratcliffe was absorbed and ill at ease. A swarm of applicants for office dogged his steps and beleaguered his rooms in quest of his endorsement of their paper characters. The new President was to arrive on Monday. Intrigues and combinations, of which the Senator was the soul, were all alive, awaiting this arrival. Newspaper correspondents pestered him with questions. Brother senators called him to conferences. His mind was pre-occupied with his own interests. One might have supposed that, at this instant, nothing could have drawn him away from the political gaming-table, and yet when Mrs. Lee remarked that she was going to Mount Vernon on Saturday with a little party, including the British Minister and an Irish gentleman staying as a guest at the British Legation, the Senator surprised her by expressing a strong wish to join them. He explained that, as the political lead was no longer in his hands, the chances were nine in ten that if he stirred at all he should make a blunder; that his friends expected him to do something when, in fact, nothing could be done; that every preparation had already been made, and that for him to go on an excursion to Mount Vernon, at this moment, with the British Minister, was, on the whole, about the best use he could make of his time, since it would hide him for one day at least.

Lord Skye had fallen into the habit of consulting Mrs. Lee when his own social resources were low, and it was she who had suggested this party to Mount Vernon, with Carrington for a guide and Mr. Gore for variety, to occupy the time of the Irish friend whom Lord Skye was bravely entertaining.

This gentleman, who bore the title of Dunbeg, was a dilapidated peer, neither wealthy nor famous. Lord Skye brought him to call on Mrs. Lee, and in some sort put him under her care. He was young, not ill-looking, quite intelligent, rather too fond of facts, and not quick at humour. He was given to smiling in a deprecatory way, and when he talked, he was either absent or excited; he made vague blunders, and then smiled in deprecation of offence, or his words blocked their own path in their rush. Perhaps his manner was a little ridiculous, but he had a good heart, a good head, and a title. He found favour in the eyes of Sybil and Victoria Dare, who declined to admit other women to the party, although they offered no objection to Mr.

Ratcliffe's admission. As for Lord Dunbeg, he was an enthusiastic admirer of General Washington, and, as he privately intimated, eager to study phases of American society. He was delighted to go with a small party, and Miss Dare secretly promised herself that she would show him a phase.

The morning was warm, the sky soft, the little steamer lay at the quiet wharf with a few negroes lazily watching her preparations for departure.

Carrington, with Mrs. Lee and the young ladies, arrived first, and stood leaning against the rail, waiting the arrival of their companions. Then came Mr. Gore, neatly attired and gloved, with a light spring overcoat; for Mr.

Gore was very careful of his personal appearance, and not a little vain of his good looks. Then a pretty woman, with blue eyes and blonde hair, dressed in black, and leading a little girl by the hand, came on board, and Carrington went to shake hands with her. On his return to Mrs. Lee's side, she asked about his new acquaintance, and he replied with a half-laugh, as though he were not proud of her, that she was a client, a pretty widow, well known in Washington. "Any one at the Capitol would tell you all about her.

She was the wife of a noted lobbyist, who died about two years ago.

Congressmen can refuse nothing to a pretty face, and she was their idea of feminine perfection. Yet she is a silly little woman, too. Her husband died after a very short illness, and, to my great surprise, made me executor under his will. I think he had an idea that he could trust me with his papers, which were important and compromising, for he seems to have had no time to go over them and destroy what were best out of the way. So, you see, I am left with his widow and child to look after. Luckily, they are well provided for."

"Still you have not told me her name." "Her name is Baker--Mrs. Sam Baker. But they are casting off, and Mr.

Ratcliffe will be left behind. I'll ask the captain to wait." About a dozen passengers had arrived, among them the two Earls, with a footman carrying a promising lunch-basket, and the planks were actually hauled in when a carriage dashed up to the whatf, and Mr. Ratcliffe leaped out and hurried on board. "Off with you as quick as you can!" said he to the negro-hands, and in another moment the little steamer had begun her journey, pounding the muddy waters of the Potomac and sending up its small column of smoke as though it were a newly invented incense-burner approaching the temple of the national deity. Ratcliffe explained in great glee how he had barely managed to escape his visitors by telling them that the British Minister was waiting for him, and that he would be back again presently. "If they had known where I was going," said he, "you would have seen the boat swamped with office-seekers. Illinois alone would have brought you to a watery grave." He was in high spirits, bent upon enjoying his holiday, and as they passed the arsenal with its solitary sentry, and the navy-yard, with its one unseaworthy wooden war-steamer, he pointed out these evidences of national grandeur to Lord Skye, threatening, as the last terror of diplomacy, to send him home in an American frigate. They were thus indulging in senatorial humour on one side of the boat, while Sybil and Victoria, with the aid of Mr. Gore and Carrington, were improving Lord Dunbeg's mind on the other.

Miss Dare, finding for herself at last a convenient seat where she could repose and be mistress of the situation, put on a more than usually demure expression and waited with gravity until her noble neighbour should give her an opportunity to show those powers which, as she believed, would supply a phase in his existence. Miss Dare was one of those young persons, sometimes to be found in America, who seem to have no object in life, and while apparently devoted to men, care nothing about them, but find happiness only in violating rules; she made no parade of whatever virtues she had, and her chief pleasure was to make fun of all the world and herself.

"What a noble river!" remarked Lord Dunbeg, as the boat passed out upon the wide stream; "I suppose you often sail on it?"

"I never was here in my life till now," replied the untruthful Miss Dare; "we don't think much of it; it s too small; we're used to so much larger rivers."

"I am afraid you would not like our English rivers then; they are mere brooks compared with this."

"Are they indeed?" said Victoria, with an appearance of vague surprise; "how curious! I don't think I care to be an Englishwoman then. I could not live without big rivers."

Lord Dunbeg stared, and hinted that this was almost unreasonable.

"Unless I were a Countess!" continued Victoria, meditatively, looking at Alexandria, and paying no attention to his lordship; "I think I could manage if I were a C-c-countess. It is such a pretty title!"

"Duchess is commonly thought a prettier one," stammered Dunbeg, much embarrassed. The young man was not used to chaff from women.

"I should be satisfied with Countess. It sounds well. I am surprised that you don't like it." Dunbeg looked about him uneasily for some means of escape but he was barred in. "I should think you would feel an awful responsibility in selecting a Countess. How do you do it?"

Lord Dunbeg nervously joined in the general laughter as Sybil ejaculated:

"Oh, Victoria!" but Miss Dare continued without a smile or any elevation of her monotonous voice:

"Now, Sybil, don't interrupt me, please. I am deeply interested in Lord Dunbeg's conversation. He understands that my interest is purely scientific, but my happiness requires that I should know how Countesses are selected.

Lord Dunbeg, how would you recommend a friend to choose a Countess?"

Lord Dunbeg began to be amused by her impudence, and he even tried to lay down for her satisfaction one or two rules for selecting Countesses, but long before he had invented his first rule, Victoria had darted off to a new subject.

"Which would you rather be, Lord Dunbeg? an Earl or George Washington?"

"George Washington, certainly," was the Earl's courteous though rather bewildered reply.

"Really?" she asked with a languid affectation of surprise; "it is awfully kind of you to say so, but of course you can't mean it.

"Indeed I do mean it."

"Is it possible? I never should have thought it."

"Why not, Miss Dare?"

"You have not the air of wishing to be George Washington."

"May I again ask, why not?"

"Certainly. Did you ever see George Washington?"

"Of course not. He died fifty years before I was born."

"I thought so. You see you don't know him. Now, will you give us an idea of what you imagine General Washington to have looked like?"

Dunbeg gave accordingly a flattering description of General Washington, compounded of Stuart's portrait and Greenough's statue of Olympian Jove with Washington's features, in the Capitol Square. Miss Dare listened with an expression of superiority not unmlxed with patience, and then she enlightened him as follows:

"All you have been saying is perfect stuff--excuse the vulgarity of the expression. When I am a Countess I will correct my language. The truth is that General Washington was a raw-boned country farmer, very hard-featured, very awkward, very illiterate and very dull; very bad tempered, very profane, and generally tipsy after dinner."

"You shock me, Miss Dare!" exclaimed Dunbeg.

"Oh! I know all about General Washington. My grandfather knew him intimately, and often stayed at Mount Vernon for weeks together. You must not believe what you read, and not a word of what Mr. Carrington will say.

He is a Virginian and will tell you no end of fine stories and not a syllable of truth in one of them. We are all patriotic about Washington and like to hide his faults. If I weren't quite sure you would never repeat it, I would not tell you this. The truth is that even when George Washington was a small boy, his temper was so violent that no one could do anything with him. He once cut down all his father's fruit-trees in a fit of passion, and then, just because they wanted to flog him, he threatened to brain his father with the hatchet. His aged wife suffered agonies from him. My grandfather often told me how he had seen the General pinch and swear at her till the poor creature left the room in tears; and how once at Mount Vernon he saw Washington, when quite an old man, suddenly rush at an unoffending visitor, and chase him off the place, beating him all the time over the head with a great stick with knots in it, and all just because he heard the poor man stammer; he never could abide s-s-stammering."

Carrington and Gore burst into shouts of laughter over this description of the Father of his country, but Victoria continued in her gentle drawl to enlighten Lord Dunbeg in regard to other subjects with information equally mendacious, until he decided that she was quite the most eccentric person he had ever met. The boat arrived at Mount Vernon while she was still engaged in a description of the society and manners of America, and especially of the rules which made an offer of marriage necessary. According to her, Lord Dunbeg was in imminent peril; gentlemen, and especially foreigners, were expected, in all the States south of the Potomac, to offer themselves to at least one young lady in every city: "and I had only yesterday," said Victoria, "a letter from a lovely girl in North Carolina, a dear friend of mine, who wrote me that she was right put out because her brothers had called on a young English visitor with shot guns, and she was afraid he wouldn't recover, and, after all, she says she should have refused him."

Meanwhile Madeleine, on the other side of the boat, undisturbed by the laughter that surrounded Miss Dare, chatted soberly and seriously with Lord Skye and Senator Ratcliffe. Lord Skye, too, a little intoxicated by the brilliancy of the morning, broke out into admiration of the noble river, and accused Americans of not appreciating the beauties of their own country.

"Your national mind," said he, "has no eyelids. It requires a broad glare and a beaten road. It prefers shadows which you can cut out with a knife. It doesn't know the beauty of this Virginia winter softness."

Mrs. Lee resented the charge. America, she maintained, had not worn her feelings threadbare like Europe. She had still her story to tell; she was waiting for her Burns and Scott, her Wordsworth and Byron, her Hogarth and Turner. "You want peaches in spring," said she. "Give us our thousand years of summer, and then complain, if you please, that our peach is not as mellow as yours. Even our voices may be soft then," she added, with a significant look at Lord Skye.

"We are at a disadvantage in arguing with Mrs. Lee," said he to Ratcliffe; "when she ends as counsel, she begins as witness. The famous Duchess of Devonshire's lips were not half as convincing as Mrs. Lee's voice."

Ratcliffe listened carefully, assenting whenever he saw that Mrs. Lee wished it. He wished he understood precisely what tones and half-tones, colours and harmonies, were.

They arrived and strolled up the sunny path. At the tomb they halted, as all good Americans do, and Mr. Gore, in a tone of subdued sorrow, delivered a short address--

"It might be much worse if they improved it," he said, surveying its proportions with the æsthetic eye of a cultured Bostonian. "As it stands, this tomb is a simple misfortune which might befall any of us; we should not grieve over it too much. What would our feelings be if a Congressional committee reconstructed it of white marble with Gothic pepper-pots, and gilded it inside on machine-moulded stucco!"

Madeleine, however, insisted that the tomb, as it stood, was the only restless spot about the quiet landscape, and that it contradicted all her ideas about repose in the grave. Ratcliffe wondered what she meant.

They passed on, wandering across the lawn, and through the house. Their eyes, weary of the harsh colours and forms of the city, took pleasure in the worn wainscots and the stained walls. Some of the rooms were still occupied; fires were burning in the wide fire-places. All were tolerably furnished, and there was no uncomfortable sense of repair or newness. They mounted the stairs, and Mrs. Lee fairly laughed when she was shown the room in which General Washington slept, and where he died.

Carrington smiled too. "Our old Virginia houses were mostly like this," said he; "suites of great halls below, and these gaunt barracks above. The Virginia house was a sort of hotel. When there was a race or a wedding, or a dance, and the house was full, they thought nothing of packing half a dozen people in one room, and if the room was large, they stretched a sheet a cross to separate the men from the women. As for toilet, those were not the mornings of cold baths. With our ancestors a little washing went a long way."

"Do you still live so in Virginia?" asked Madeleine.

"Oh no, it is quite gone. We live now like other country people, and try to pay our debts, which that generation never did. They lived from hand to mouth. They kept a stable-full of horses. The young men were always riding about the country, betting on horse-races, gambling, drinking, fighting, and making love. No one knew exactly what he was worth until the crash came about fifty years ago, and the whole thing ran out."

"Just what happened in Ireland!" said Lord Dunbeg, much interested and full of his article in the Quarterly; "the resemblance is perfect, even down to the houses."

Mrs. Lee asked Carrington bluntly whether he regretted the destruction of this old social arrangement.

"One can't help regretting," said he, "whatever it was that produced George Washington, and a crowd of other men like him. But I think we might produce the men still if we had the same field for them."

"And would you bring the old society back again if you could?" asked she.

"What for? It could not hold itself up. General Washington himself could not save it. Before he died he had lost his hold on Virginia, and his power was gone."

The party for a while separated, and Mrs. Lee found herself alone in the great drawing-room. Presently the blonde Mrs. Baker entered, with her child, who ran about making more noise than Mrs. Washington would have permitted.

Madeleine, who had the usual feminine love of children, called the girl to her and pointed out the shepherds and shepherdesses carved on the white Italian marble of the fireplace; she invented a little story about them to amuse the child, while the mother stood by and at the end thanked the story-teller with more enthusiasm than seemed called for. Mrs. Lee did not fancy her effusive manner, or her complexion, and was glad when Dunbeg appeared at the doorway.

"How do you like General Washington at home?" asked she.

"Really, I assure you I feel quite at home myself," replied Dunbeg, with a more beaming smile than ever. "I am sure General Washington was an Irishman.

I know it from the look of the place. I mean to look it up and write an article about it."

"Then if you have disposed of him," said Madeleine, "I think we will have luncheon, and I have taken the liberty to order it to be served outside."

There a table had been improvised, and Miss Dare was inspecting the lunch, and making comments upon Lord Skye's cuisine and cellar.

"I hope it is very dry champagne," said she, "the taste for sweet champagne is quite awfully shocking."

The young woman knew no more about dry and sweet champagne than of the wine of Ulysses, except that she drank both with equal satisfaction, but she was mimicking a Secretary of the British Legation who had provided her with supper at her last evening party. Lord Skye begged her to try it, which she did, and with great gravity remarked that it was about five per cent. she presumed. This, too, was caught from her Secretary, though she knew no more what it meant than if she had been a parrot.

The luncheon was very lively and very good. When it was over, the gentlemen were allowed to smoke, and conversation fell into a sober strain, which at last threatened to become serious.

"You want half-tones!" said Madeleine to Lord Skye: "are there not half-tones enough to suit you on the walls of this house?"

Lord Skye suggested that this was probably owing to the fact that Washington, belonging, as he did, to the universe, was in his taste an exception to local rules.

"Is not the sense of rest here captivating?" she continued. "Look at that quaint garden, and this ragged lawn, and the great river in front, and the superannuated fort beyond the river! Everything is peaceful, even down to the poor old General's little bed-room. One would like to lie down in it and sleep a century or two. And yet that dreadful Capitol and its office-seekers are only ten miles off."

"No! that is more than I can bear!" broke in Miss Victoria in a stage whisper, "that dreadful Capitol! Why, not one of us would be here without that dreadful Capitol! except, perhaps, myself."

"You would appear very well as Mrs. Washington, Victoria."

"Miss Dare has been so very obliging as to give us her views of General Washington's character this morning," said Dunbeg, "but I have not yet had time to ask Mr. Carrington for his."

"Whatever Miss Dare says is valuable," replied Carrington, "but her strong point is facts."

"Never flatter! Mr. Carrington," drawled Miss Dare; "I do not need it, and it does not become your style. Tell me, Lord Dunbeg, is not Mr. Carrington a little your idea of General Washington restored to us in his prime?"

"After your account of General Washington, Miss Dare, how can I agree with you?"

"After all," said Lord Skye, "I think we must agree that Miss Dare is in the main right about the charms of Mount Vernon. Even Mrs. Lee, on the way up, agreed that the General, who is the only permanent resident here, has the air of being confoundedly bored in his tomb. I don't myself love your dreadful Capitol yonder, but I prefer it to a bucolic life here. And I account in this way for my want of enthusiasm for your great General. He liked no kind of life but this. He seems to have been greater in the character of a home-sick Virginia planter than as General or President. I forgive him his inordinate dulness, for he was not a diplomatist and it was not his business to lie, but he might once in a way have forgotten Mount Vernon."

Dunbeg here burst in with an excited protest; all his words seemed to shove each other aside in their haste to escape first. "All our greatest Englishmen have been home-sick country squires. I am a home-sick country squire myself."

"How interesting!" said Miss Dare under her breath.

Mr. Gore here joined in: "It is all very well for you gentlemen to measure General Washington according to your own private twelve-inch carpenter's rule. But what will you say to us New Englanders who never were country gentlemen at all, and never had any liking for Virginia? What did Washington ever do for us? He never even pretended to like us. He never was more than barely civil to us. I'm not finding fault with him; everybody knows that he never cared for anything but Mount Vernon. For all that, we idolize him. To us he is Morality, Justice, Duty, Truth; half a dozen Roman gods with capital letters. He is austere, solitary, grand; he ought to be deified. I hardly feel easy, eating, drinking, smoking here on his portico without his permission, taking liberties with his house, criticising his bedrooms in his absence. Suppose I heard his horse now trotting up on the other side, and he suddenly appeared at this door and looked at us. I should abandon you to his indignation. I should run away and hide myself on the steamer. The mere thought unmans me."

Ratcliffe seemed amused at Gore's half-serious notions. "You recall to me,"

said he, "my own feelings when I was a boy and was made by my father to learn the Farewell Address by heart. In those days General Washington was a sort of American Jehovah. But the West is a poor school for Reverence. Since coming to Congress I have learned more about General Washington, and have been surprised to find what a narrow base his reputation rests on. A fair military officer, who made many blunders, and who never had more men than would make a full army-corps under his command, he got an enormous reputation in Europe because he did not make himself king, as though he ever had a chance of doing it. A respectable, painstaking President, he was treated by the Opposition with an amount of deference that would have made government easy to a baby, but it worried him to death. His official papers are fairly done, and contain good average sense such as a hundred thousand men in the United States would now write. I suspect that half of his attachment to this spot rose from his consciousness of inferior powers and his dread of responsibility. This government can show to-day a dozen men of equal abilities, but we don't deify them. What I most wonder at in him is not his military or political genius at all, for I doubt whether he had much, but a curious Yankee shrewdness in money matters. He thought himself a very rich man, yet he never spent a dollar foolishly. He was almost the only Virginian I ever heard of, in public life, who did not die insolvent."

During this long speech, Carrington glanced across at Madeleine, and caught her eye. Ratcliffe's criticism was not to her taste. Carrington could see that she thought it unworthy of him, and he knew that it would irritate her.

"I will lay a little trap for Mr. Ratcliffe," thought he to himself; "we will see whether he gets out of it." So Carrington began, and all listened closely, for, as a Virginian, he was supposed to know much about the subject, and his family had been deep in the confidence of Washington himself.

"The neighbours hereabout had for many years, and may have still, some curious stories about General Washington's closeness in money matters. They said he never bought anything by weight but he had it weighed over again, nor by tale but he had it counted, and if the weight or number were not exact, he sent it back. Once, during his absence, his steward had a room plastered, and paid the plasterer's bill. On the General's return, he measured the room, and found that the plasterer had charged fifteen shillings too much. Meanwhile the man had died, and the General made a claim of fifteen shillings on his estate, which was paid. Again, one of his tenants brought him the rent. The exact change of fourpence was required.

The man tendered a dollar, and asked the General to credit him with the balance against the next year's rent. The General refused and made him ride nine miles to Alexandria and back for the fourpence. On the other hand, he sent to a shoemaker in Alexandria to come and measure him for shoes. The man returned word that he did not go to any one's house to take measures, and the General mounted his horse and rode the nine miles to him. One of his rules was to pay at taverns the same sum for his servants' meals as for his own. An inn-keeper brought him a bill of three-and-ninepence for his own breakfast, and three shillings for his servant. He insisted upon adding the extra ninepence, as he did not doubt that the servant had eaten as much as he. What do you say to these anecdotes? Was this meanness or not?"

Ratcliffe was amused. "The stories are new to me," he said. "It is just as I thought. These are signs of a man who thinks much of trifles; one who fusses over small matters. We don't do things in that way now that we no longer have to get crops from granite, as they used to do in New Hampshire when I was a boy."

Carrington replied that it was unlucky for Virginians that they had not done things in that way then: if they had, they would not have gone to the dogs.

Gore shook his head seriously; "Did I not tell you so?" said he. "Was not this man an abstract virtue? I give you my word I stand in awe before him, and I feel ashamed to pry into these details of his life. What is it to us how he thought proper to apply his principles to nightcaps and feather dusters? We are not his body servants, and we care nothing about his infirmities. It is enough for us to know that he carried his rules of virtue down to a pin's point, and that we ought, one and all, to be on our knees before his tomb."

Dunbeg, pondering deeply, at length asked Carrington whether all this did not make rather a clumsy politician of the father of his country.

"Mr. Ratcliffe knows more about politics than I. Ask him," said Carrington.

"Washington was no politician at all, as we understand the word," replied Ratcliffe abruptly. "He stood outside of politics. The thing couldn't be done to-day. The people don't like that sort of royal airs."

"I don't understand!" said Mrs. Lee. "Why could you not do it now?"

"Because I should make a fool of myself;" replied Ratcliffe, pleased to think that Mrs. Lee should put him on a level with Washington. She had only meant to ask why the thing could not be done, and this little touch of Ratcliffe's vanity was inimitable.

"Mr. Ratcliffe means that Washington was too respectable for our time,"

interposed Carrington.

This was deliberately meant to irritate Ratcliffe, and it did so all the more because Mrs. Lee turned to Carrington, and said, with some bitterness:

"Was he then the only honest public man we ever had?"

"Oh no!" replied Carrington cheerfully; "there have been one or two others."

"If the rest of our Presidents had been like him," said Gore, "we should have had fewer ugly blots on our short history."

Ratcliffe was exasperated at Carrington's habit of drawing discussion to this point. He felt the remark as a personal insult, and he knew it to be intended. "Public men," he broke out, "cannot be dressing themselves to-day in Washington's old clothes. If Washington were President now, he would have to learn our ways or lose his next election. Only fools and theorists imagine that our society can be handled with gloves or long poles. One must make one's self a part of it. If virtue won't answer our purpose, we must use vice, or our opponents will put us out of office, and this was as true in Washington's day as it is now, and always will be."

"Come," said Lord Skye, who was beginning to fear an open quarrel; "the conversation verges on treason, and I am accredited to this government. Why not examine the grounds?"

A kind of natural sympathy led Lord Dunbeg to wander by the side of Miss Dare through the quaint old garden. His mind being much occupied by the effort of stowing away the impressions he had just received, he was more than usually absent in his manner, and this want of attention irritated the young lady. She made some comments on flowers; she invented some new species with startling names; she asked whether these were known in Ireland; but Lord Dunbeg was for the moment so vague in his answers that she saw her case was perilous.

"Here is an old sun-dial. Do you have sun-dials in Ireland, Lord Dunbeg?"

"Yes; oh, certainly! What! sun-dials? Oh, yes! I assure you there are a great many sun-dials in Ireland, Miss Dare."

"I am so glad. But I suppose they are only for ornament. Here it is just the other way. Look at this one! they all behave like that. The wear and tear of our sun is too much for them; they don't last. My uncle, who has a place at Long Branch, had five sun-dials in ten years."

"How very odd! But really now, Miss Dare, I don't see how a sun--dial could wear out."

"Don't you? How strange! Don't you see, they get soaked with sunshine so that they can't hold shadow. It's like me, you know. I have such a good time all the time that I can't be unhappy. Do you ever read the Burlington Hawkeye, Lord Dunbeg?"

"I don't remember; I think not. Is it an American serial?" gasped Dunbeg, trying hard to keep pace with Miss Dare in her reckless dashes across country.

"No, not serial at all!" replied Virginia; "but I am afraid you would find it very hard reading. I shouldn't try."

"Do you read it much, Miss Dare?"

"Oh, always! I am not really as light as I seem. But then I have an advantage over you because I know the language."

By this time Dunbeg was awake again, and Miss Dare, satisfied with her success, allowed herself to become more reasonable, until a slight shade of sentiment began to flicker about their path.

The scattered party, however, soon had to unite again. The boat rang its bell for return, they filed down the paths and settled themselves in their old places. As they steamed away, Mrs. Lee watched the sunny hill-side and the peaceful house above, until she could see them no more, and the longer she looked, the less she was pleased with herself. Was it true, as Victoria Dare said, that she could not live in so pure an air? Did she really need the denser fumes of the city? Was she, unknown to herself; gradually becoming tainted with the life about her? or was Ratcliffe right in accepting the good and the bad together, and in being of his time since he was in it? Why was it, she said bitterly to herself; that everything Washington touched, he purified, even down to the associations of his house?

and why is it that everything we touch seems soiled? Why do I feel unclean when I look at Mount Vernon? In spite of Mr. Ratcliffe, is it not better to be a child and to cry for the moon and stars?

The little Baker girl came up to her where she stood, and began playing with her parasol.

"Who is your little friend?" asked Ratcliffe.

Mrs. Lee rather vaguely replied that she was the daughter of that pretty woman in black; she believed her name was Baker.

"Baker, did you say?" repeated Ratcliffe.

"Baker--Mrs. Sam Baker; at least so Mr. Carrington told me; he said she was a client of his."

In fact Ratcliffe soon saw Carrington go up to her and remain by her side during the rest of the trip. Ratcliffe watched them sharply and grew more and more absorbed in his own thoughts as the boat drew nearer and nearer the shore.

Carrington was in high spirits. He thought he had played his cards with unusual success. Even Miss Dare deigned to acknowledge his charms that day.

She declared herself to be the moral image of Martha Washington, and she started a discussion whether Carrington or Lord Dunbeg would best suit her in the rôle of the General.

"Mr. Carrington is exemplary," she said, "but oh, what joy to be Martha Washington and a Countess too!"

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 12:18 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 5

 

 

To tie a prominent statesman to her train and to lead him about like a tame bear, is for a young and vivacious woman a more certain amusement than to tie herself to him and to be dragged about like an Indian squaw. This fact was Madeleine Lee's first great political discovery in Washington, and it was worth to her all the German philosophy she had ever read, with even a complete edition of Herbert Spencer's works into the bargain. There could be no doubt that the honours and dignities of a public career were no fair consideration for its pains. She made a little daily task for herself of reading in succession the lives and letters of the American Presidents, and of their wives, when she could find that there was a trace of the latter's existence. What a melancholy spectacle it was, from George Washington down to the last incumbent; what vexations, what disappointments, what grievous mistakes, what very objectionable manners! Not one of them, who had aimed at high purpose, but had been thwarted, beaten, and habitually insulted! What a gloom lay on the features of those famous chieftains, Calhoun, Clay, and Webster; what varied expression of defeat and unsatisfied desire; what a sense of self-importance and senatorial magniloquence; what a craving for flattery; what despair at the sentence of fate! And what did they amount to, after all?

They were practical men, these! they had no great problems of thought to settle, no questions that rose above the ordinary rules of common morals and homely duty. How they had managed to befog the subject! What elaborate show-structures they had built up, with no result but to obscure the horizon! Would not the country have done better without them? Could it have done worse? What deeper abyss could have opened under the nation's feet, than that to whose verge they brought it?

Madeleine's mind wearied with the monotony of the story. She discussed the subject with Ratcliffe, who told her frankly that the pleasure of politics lay in the possession of power. He agreed that the country would do very well without him. "But here I am," said he, "and here I mean to stay." He had very little sympathy for thin moralising, and a statesmanlike contempt for philosophical politics. He loved power, and he meant to be President.

That was enough.

Sometimes the tragic and sometimes the comic side was uppermost in her mind, and sometimes she did not herself know whether to cry or to laugh.

Washington more than any other city in the world swarms with simple-minded exhibitions of human nature; men and women curiously out of place, whom it would be cruel to ridicule and ridiculous to weep over. The sadder exhibitions are fortunately seldom seen by respectable people; only the little social accidents come under their eyes. One evening Mrs. Lee went to the President's first evening reception. As Sybil flatly refused to face the crowd, and Carrington mildly said that he feared he was not sufficiently reconstructed to appear at home in that august presence, Mrs. Lee accepted Mr. French for an escort, and walked across the Square with him to join the throng that was pouring into the doors of the White House. They took their places in the line of citizens and were at last able to enter the reception-room. There Madeleine found herself before two seemingly mechanical figures, which mlght be wood or wax, for any sign they showed of life. These two figures were the President and his wife; they stood stiff and awkward by the door, both their faces stripped of every sign of intelligence, while the right hands of both extended themselves to the column of visitors with the mechanical action of toy dolls. Mrs. Lee for a moment began to laugh, but the laugh died on her lips. To the President and his wife this was clearly no laughing matter. There they stood, automata, representatives of the society which streamed past them. Madeleine seized Mr. French by the arm.

"Take me somewhere at once," said she, "where I can look at it. Here! in the corner. I had no conception how shocking it was!"

Mr. French supposed she was thinking of the queer-looking men and women who were swarming through the rooms, and he made, after his own delicate notion of humour, some uncouth jests on those who passed by. Mrs. Lee, however, was in no humour to explain or even to listen. She stopped him short:--

"There, Mr. French! Now go away and leave me. I want to be alone for half an hour. Please come for me then." And there she stood, with her eyes fixed on the President and his wife, while the endless stream of humanity passed them, shaking hands.

What a strange and solemn spectacle it was, and how the deadly fascination of it burned the image in upon her mind! What a horrid warning to ambition!

And in all that crowd there was no one besides herself who felt the mockery of this exhibition. To all the others this task was a regular part of the President's duty, and there was nothing ridiculous about it. They thought it a democratic institution, this droll a ping of monarchical forms. To them the deadly dulness of the show was as natural and proper as ever to the courtiers of the Philips and Charleses seemed the ceremonies of the Escurial. To her it had the effect of a nightmare, or of an opium-eater's vision, She felt a sudden conviction that this was to be the end of American society; its realisation and dream at once. She groaned in spirit.

"Yes! at last I have reached the end! We shall grow to be wax images, and our talk will be like the squeaking of toy dolls. We shall all wander round and round the earth and shake hands. No one will have any object in this world, and there will be no other. It is worse than anything in the 'Inferno.' What an awful vision of eternity!"

Suddenly, as through a mist, she saw the melancholy face of Lord Skye approaching. He came to her side, and his voice recalled her to reality.

"Does it amuse you, this sort of thing?" he asked in a vague way.

"We take our amusement sadly, after the manner of our people," she replied; "but it certainly interests me."

They stood for a time in silence, watching the slowly eddying dance of Democracy, until he resumed:

"Whom do you take that man to be--the long, lean one, with a long woman on each arm?"

"That man," she replied, "I take to be a Washington department-clerk, or perhaps a member of Congress from Iowa, with a wife and wife's sister. Do they shock your nobility?"

He looked at her with comical resignation. "You mean to tell me that they are quite as good as dowager-countesses. I grant it. My aristocratic spirit is broken, Mrs. Lee. I will even ask them to dinner if you bid me, and if you will come to meet them. But the last time I asked a member of Congress to dine, he sent me back a note in pencil on my own envelope that he would bring two of his friends with him, very respectable constituents from Yahoo city, or some such place; nature's noblemen, he said."

"You should have welcomed them."

"I did. I wanted to see two of nature's noblemen, and I knew they would probably be pleasanter company than their representative. They came; very respectable persons, one with a blue necktie, the other with a red one: both had diamond pins in their shirts, and were carefully brushed in respect to their hair. They said nothing, ate little, drank less, and were much better behaved than I am. When they went away, they unanimously asked me to stay with them when I visited Yahoo city."

"You will not want guests if you always do that."

"I don't know. I think it was pure ignorance on their part. They knew no better, and they seemed modest enough. My only complaint was that I could get nothing out of them. I wonder whether their wives would have been more amusing."

"Would they be so in England, Lord Skye?"

He looked down at her with half-shut eyes, and drawled: "You know my countrywomen?"

"Hardly at all."

"Then let us discuss some less serious subject."

"Willingly. I have waited for you to explain to me why you have to-night an expression of such melancholy."

"Is that quite friendly, Mrs. Lee? Do I really look melancholy?"

"Unutterably, as I feel. I am consumed with curiosity to know the reason."

The British minister coolly took a complete survey of the whole room, ending with a prolonged stare at the President and his wife, who were still mechanically shaking hands; then he looked back into her face, and said never a word.

She insisted: "I must have this riddle answered. It suffocates me. I should not be sad at seeing these same people at work or at play, if they ever do play; or in a church or a lecture-room. Why do they weigh on me like a horrid phantom here?"

"I see no riddle, Mrs. Lee. You have answered your own question; they are neither at work nor at play."

"Then please take me home at once. I shall have hysterics. The sight of those two suffering images at the door is too mournful to be borne. I am dizzy with looking at these stalking figures. I don't believe they're real.

I wish the house would take fire. I want an earthquake. I wish some one would pinch the President, or pull his wife's hair."

Mrs. Lee did not repeat the experiment of visiting the White House, and indeed for some time afterwards she spoke with little enthusiasm of the presidential office. To Senator Ratcliffe she expressed her opinions strongly. The Senator tried in vain to argue that the people had a right to call upon their chief magistrate, and that he was bound to receive them; this being so, there was no less objectionable way of proceeding than the one which had been chosen. "Who gave the people any such right?" asked Mrs.

Lee. "Where does it come from? What do they want it for? You know better, Mr. Ratcliffe! Our chief magistrate is a citizen like any one else. What puts it into his foolish head to cease being a citizen and to ape royalty?

Our governors never make themselves ridiculous. Why cannot the wretched being content himself with living like the rest of us, and minding his own business? Does he know what a figure of fun he is?" And Mrs. Lee went so far as to declare that she would like to be the President's wife only to put an end to this folly; nothing should ever induce her to go through such a performance; and if the public did not approve of this, Congress might impeach her, and remove her from office; all she demanded was the right to be heard before the Senate in her own defence.

Nevertheless, there was a very general impression in Washington that Mrs.

Lee would like nothing better than to be in the White House. Known to comparatively few people, and rarely discussing even with them the subjects which deeply interested her, Madeleine passed for a clever, intriguing woman who had her own objects to gain. True it is, beyond peradventure, that all residents of Washington may be assumed to be in office or candidates for office; unless they avow their object, they are guilty of an attempt--and a stupid one--to deceive; yet there is a small class of apparent exceptions destined at last to fall within the rule. Mrs. Lee was properly assumed to be a candidate for office. To the Washingtonians it was a matter of course that Mrs. Lee should marry Silas P. Ratcliffe. That he should be glad to get a fashionable and intelligent wife, with twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year, was not surprising. That she should accept the first public man of the day, with a flattering chance for the Presidency--a man still comparatively young and not without good looks--was perfectly natural, and in her undertaking she had the sympathy of all well-regulated Washington women who were not possible rivals; for to them the President's wife is of more consequence than the President; and, indeed, if America only knew it, they are not very far from the truth.

Some there were, however, who did not assent to this good-natured though worldly view of the proposed match. These ladies were severe in their comments upon Mrs. Lee's conduct, and did not hesitate to declare their opinion that she was the calmest and most ambitious minx who had ever come within their observation. Unfortunately it happened that the respectable and proper Mrs. Schuyler Clinton took this view of the case, and made little attempt to conceal her opinion. She was justly indignant at her cousin's gross worldliness, and possible promotion in rank.

"If Madeleine Ross marries that coarse, horrid old Illinois politician,"

said she to her husband, "I never will forgive her so long as I live."

Mr. Clinton tried to excuse Madeleine, and even went so far as to suggest that the difference of age was no greater than in their own case; but his wife trampled ruthlessly on his argument.

"At any rate," said she, "I never came to Washington as a widow on purpose to set my cap for the first candidate for the Presidency, and I never made a public spectacle of my indecent eagerness in the very galleries of the Senate; and Mrs. Lee ought to be ashamed of herself. She is a cold-blooded, heartless, unfeminine cat."

Little Victoria Dare, who babbled like the winds and streams, with utter indifference as to what she said or whom she addressed, used to bring choice bits of this gossip to Mrs. Lee. She always affected a little stammer when she said anything uncommonly impudent, and put on a manner of languid simplicity. She felt keenly the satisfaction of seeing Madeleine charged with her own besetting sins. For years all Washington had agreed that Victoria was little better than one of the wicked; she had done nothing but violate every rule of propriety and scandalise every well-regulated family in the city, and there was no good in her. Yet it could not be denied that Victoria was amusing, and had a sort of irregular fascination; consequently she was universally tolerated. To see Mrs. Lee thrust down to her own level was an unmixed pleasure to her, and she carefully repeated to Madeleine the choice bits of dialogue which she picked up in her wanderings.

"Your cousin, Mrs. Clinton, says you are a ca-ca-cat, Mrs. Lee."

"I don't believe it, Victoria. Mrs. Clinton never said anything of the sort."

"Mrs. Marston says it is because you have caught a ra-ra-rat, and Senator Clinton was only a m-m-mouse!"

Naturally all this unexpected publicity irritated Mrs. Lee not a little, especially when short and vague paragraphs, soon followed by longer and more positive ones, in regard to Senator Ratcliffe's matrimonial prospects, began to appear in newspapers, along with descriptions of herself from the pens of enterprising female correspondents for the press, who had never so much as seen her. At the first sight of one of these newspaper articles, Madeleine fairly cried with mortification and anger. She wanted to leave Washington the next day, and she hated the very thought of Ratcliffe. There was something in the newspaper style so inscrutably vulgar, something so inexplicably revolting to the sense of feminine decency, that she shrank under it as though it were a poisonous spider. But after the first acute shame had passed, her temper was roused, and she vowed that she would pursue her own path just as she had begun, without regard to all the malignity and vulgarity in the wide United States. She did not care to marry Senator Ratcliffe; she liked his society and was flattered by his confidence; she rather hoped to prevent him from ever making a formal offer, and if not, she would at least push it off to the last possible moment; but she was not to be frightened from marrying him by any amount of spitefulness or gossip, and she did not mean to refuse him except for stronger reasons than these. She even went so far in her desperate courage as to laugh at her cousin, Mrs.

Clinton, whose venerable husband she allowed and even encouraged to pay her such public attention and to express sentiments of such youthful ardour as she well knew would inflame and exasperate the excellent lady his wife.

Carrington was the person most unpleasantly affected by the course which this affair had taken. He could no longer conceal from himself the fact that he was as much m love as a dignified Virginian could be. With him, at all events, she had shown no coquetry, nor had she ever either flattered or encouraged him. But Carrington, m his solitary struggle against fate, had found her a warm friend; always ready to assist where assistance was needed, generous with her money in any cause which he was willing to vouch for, full of sympathy where sympathy was more than money, and full of resource and suggestion where money and sympathy failed. Carrington knew her better than she knew herself. He selected her books; he brought the last speech or the last report from the Capitol or the departments; he knew her doubts and her vagaries, and as far as he understood them at all, helped her to solve them.

Carrington was too modest, and perhaps too shy, to act the part of a declared lover, and he was too proud to let it be thought that he wanted to exchange his poverty for her wealth. But he was all the more anxious when he saw the evident attraction which Ratcliffe's strong will and unscrupulous energy exercised over her. He saw that Ratcliffe was steadily pushing his advances; that he flattered all Mrs. Lee's weaknesses by the confidence and deference with which he treated her; and that in a very short time, Madeleine must either marry him or find herself looked upon as a heartless coquette. He had his own reasons for thinking ill of Senator Ratcliffe, and he meant to prevent a marriage; but he had an enemy to deal with not easily driven from the path, and quite capable of routing any number of rivals.

Ratcliffe was afraid of no one. He had not fought his own way in life for nothing, and he knew all the value of a cold head and dogged self-assurance.

Nothing but this robust Americanism and his strong will carried him safely through the snares and pitfalls of Mrs. Lee's society, where rivals and enemies beset him on every hand. He was little better than a schoolboy, when he ventured on their ground, but when he could draw them over upon his own territory of practical life he rarely failed to trample on his assailants.

It was this practical sense and cool will that won over Mrs. Lee, who was woman enough to assume that all the graces were well enough employed in decorating her, and it was enough if the other sex felt her superiority. Men were valuable only in proportion to their strength and their appreciation of women. If the senator had only been strong enough always to control his temper, he would have done very well, but his temper was under a great strain in these times, and his incessant effort to control it in politics made him less watchful in private life. Mrs. Lee's tacit assumption of superior refinement irritated him, and sometimes made him show his teeth like a bull-dog, at the cost of receiving from Mrs. Lee a quick stroke in return such as a well-bred tortoise-shell cat administers to check over-familiarity; innocent to the eye, but drawing blood. One evening when he was more than commonly out of sorts, after sitting some time in moody silence, he roused himself, and, taking up a book that lay on her table, he glanced at its title and turned over the leaves. It happened by ill luck to be a volume of Darwin that Mrs. Lee had just borrowed from the library of Congress.

"Do you understand this sort of thing?" asked the Senator abruptly, in a tone that suggested a sneer.

"Not very well," replied Mrs. Lee, rather curtly.

"Why do you want to understand it?" persisted the Senator. "What good will it do you?"

"Perhaps it will teach us to be modest," answered Madeleine, quite equal to the occasion.

"Because it says we descend from monkeys?" rejoined the Senator, roughly.

"Do you think you are descended from monkeys?"

"Why not?" said Madeleine.

"Why not?" repeated Ratcliffe, laughing harshly. "I don't like the connection. Do you mean to introduce your distant relations into society?"

"They would bring more amusement into it than most of its present members,"

rejoined Mrs. Lee, with a gentle smile that threatened mischief. But Ratcliffe would not be warned; on the contrary, the only effect of Mrs.

Lee's defiance was to exasperate his ill-temper, and whenever he lost his temper he became senatorial and Websterian. "Such books," he began, "disgrace our civilization; they degrade and stultify our divine nature; they are only suited for Asiatic despotisms where men are reduced to the level of brutes; that they should be accepted by a man like Baron Jacobi, I can understand; he and his masters have nothing to do in the world but to trample on human rights. Mr. Carrington, of course, would approve those ideas; he believes in the divine doctrine of flogging negroes; but that you, who profess philanthropy and free principles, should go with them, is astonishing; it is incredible; it is unworthy of you."

"You are very hard on the monkeys," replied Madeleine, rather sternly, when the Senator's oration was ended. "The monkeys never did you any harm; they are not in public life; they are not even voters; if they were, you would be enthusiastic about their intelligence and virtue. After all, we ought to be grateful to them, for what would men do in this melancholy world if they had not inherited gaiety from the monkeys--as well as oratory."

Ratcliffe, to do him justice, took punishment well, at least when it came from Mrs. Lee's hands, and his occasional outbursts of insubordination were sure to be followed by improved discipline; but if he allowed Mrs. Lee to correct his faults, he had no notion of letting himself be instructed by her friends, and he lost no chance of telling them so. But to do this was not always enough. Whether it were that he had few ideas outside of his own experience, or that he would not trust himself on doubtful ground, he seemed compelled to bring every discussion down to his own level. Madeleine puzzled herself in vain to find out whether he did this because he knew no better, or because he meant to cover his own ignorance.

"The Baron has amused me very much with his account of Bucharest society,"

Mrs. Lee would say: "I had no idea it was so gay."

"I would like to show him our society in Peonia," was Ratcliffe's reply; "he would find a very brilliant circle there of nature's true noblemen."

"The Baron says their politicians are precious sharp chaps," added Mr.

French.

"Oh, there are politicians in Bulgaria, are there?" asked the Senator, whose ideas of the Roumanian and Bulgarian neighbourhood were vague, and who had a general notion that all such people lived in tents, wore sheepskins with the wool inside, and ate curds: "Oh, they have politicians there! I would like to see them try their sharpness in the west."

"Really!" said Mrs. Lee. "Think of Attila and his hordes running an Indiana caucus?"

"Anyhow," cried French with a loud laugh, "the Baron said that a set of bigger political scoundrels than his friends couldn't be found in all Illinois."

"Did he say that?" exclaimed Ratcliffe angrily.

"Didn't he, Mrs. Lee? but I don't believe it; do you? What's your candid opinion, Ratcliffe? What you don't know about Illinois politics isn't worth knowing; do you really think those Bulgrascals couldn't run an Illinois state convention?"

Ratcliffe did not like to be chaffed, especially on this subject, but he could not resent French's liberty which was only a moderate return for the wooden nutmeg. To get the conversation away from Europe, from literature, from art, was his great object, and chaff was a way of escape.

Carrington was very well aware that the weak side of the Senator lay in his blind ignorance of morals. He flattered himself that Mrs. Lee must see this and be shocked by it sooner or later, so that nothing more was necessary than to let Ratcliffe expose himself. Without talking very much, Carrington always aimed at drawing him out. He soon found, however, that Ratcliffe understood such tactics perfectly, and instead of injuring, he rather improved his position. At times the man's audacity was startling, and even when Carrington thought him hopelessly entangled, he would sweep away all the hunter's nets with a sheer effort of strength, and walk off bolder and more dangerous than ever.

When Mrs. Lee pressed him too closely, he frankly admitted her charges.

"What you say is in great part true. There is much in politics that disgusts and disheartens; much that is coarse and bad. I grant you there is dishonesty and corruption. We must try to make the amount as small as possible."

"You should be able to tell Mrs. Lee how she must go to work," said Carrington; "you have had experience. I have heard, it seems to me, that you were once driven to very hard measures against corruption."

Ratcliffe looked ill-pleased at this compliment, and gave Carrington one of his cold glances that meant mischief. But he took up the challenge on the spot:--

"Yes, I was, and am very sorry for it. The story is this, Mrs. Lee; and it is well-known to every man, woman, and child in the State of Illinois, so that I have no reason for softening it. In the worst days of the war there was almost a certainty that my State would be carried by the peace party, by fraud, as we thought, although, fraud or not, we were bound to save it. Had Illinois been lost then, we should certainly have lost the Presidential election, and with it probably the Union. At any rate, I believed the fate of the war to depend on the result. I was then Governor, and upon me the responsibility rested. We had entire control of the northern counties and of their returns. We ordered the returning officers in a certain number of counties to make no returns until they heard from us, and when we had received the votes of all the southern counties and learned the precise number of votes we needed to give us a majority, we telegraphed to our northern returning officers to make the vote of their districts such and such, thereby overbalancing the adverse returns and giving the State to us.

This was done, and as I am now senator I have a right to suppose that what I did was approved. I am not proud of the transaction, but I would do it again, and worse than that, if I thought it would save this country from disunion. But of course I did not expect Mr. Carrington to approve it. I believe he was then carrying out his reform principles by bearing arms against the government."

"Yes!" said Carrington drily; "you got the better of me, too. Like the old Scotchman, you didn't care who made the people's wars provided you made its ballots.

Carrington had missed his point. The man who has committed a murder for his country, is a patriot and not an assassin, even when he receives a seat in the Senate as his share of the plunder. Women cannot be expected to go behind the motives of that patriot who saves his country and his election in times of revolution.

Carrington's hostility to Ratcliffe was, however, mild, when compared with that felt by old Baron Jacobi. Why the baron should have taken so violent a prejudice it is not easy to explain, but a diplomatist and a senator are natural enemies, and Jacobi, as an avowed admirer of Mrs. Lee, found Ratcliffe in his way. This prejudiced and immoral old diplomatist despised and loathed an American senator as the type which, to his bleared European eyes, combined the utmost pragmatical self-assurance and overbearing temper with the narrowest education and the meanest personal experience that ever existed in any considerable government. As Baron Jacobi's country had no special relations with that of the United States, and its Legation at Washington was a mere job to create a place for Jacobi to fill, he had no occasion to disguise his personal antipathies, and he considered himself in some degree as having a mission to express that diplomatic contempt for the Senate which his colleagues, if they felt it, were obliged to conceal. He performed his duties with conscientious precision. He never missed an opportunity to thrust the sharp point of his dialectic rapier through the joints of the clumsy and hide-bound senatorial self-esteem. He delighted in skilfully exposing to Madeleine's eyes some new side of Ratcliffe's ignorance. His conversation at such times sparkled with historical allusions, quotations in half a dozen different languages, references to well-known facts which an old man's memory could not recall with precision in all their details, but with which the Honourable Senator was familiarly acquainted, and which he could readily supply. And his Voltairian face leered politely as he listened to Ratcliffe's reply, which showed invariable ignorance of common literature, art, and history. The climax of his triumph came one evening when Ratcliffe unluckily, tempted by some allusion to Molière which he thought he understood, made reference to the unfortunate influence of that great man on the religious opinions of his time. Jacobi, by a flash of inspiration, divined that he had confused Molière with Voltaire, and assuming a manner of extreme suavity, he put his victim on the rack, and tortured him with affected explanations and interrogations, until Madeleine was in a manner forced to interrupt and end the scene. But even when the senator was not to be lured into a trap, he could not escape assault. The baron in such a case would cross the lines and attack him on his own ground, as on one occasion, when Ratcliffe was defending his doctrine of party allegiance, Jacobi silenced him by sneering somewhat thus:

"Your principle is quite correct, Mr. Senator. I, too, like yourself, was once a good party man: my party was that of the Church; I was ultramontane.

Your party system is one of your thefts from our Church; your National Convention is our Oecumenic Council; you abdicate reason, as we do, before its decisions; and you yourself, Mr. Ratcliffe, you are a Cardinal. They are able men, those cardinals; I have known many; they were our best friends, but they were not reformers. Are you a reformer, Mr. Senator?"

Ratcliffe grew to dread and hate the old man, but all his ordinary tactics were powerless against this impenetrable eighteenth century cynic. If he resorted to his Congressional practise of browbeating and dogmatism, the Baron only smiled and turned his back, or made some remark in French which galled his enemy all the more, because, while he did not understand it, he knew well that Madeleine did, and that she tried to repress her smile.

Ratcliffe's grey eyes grew colder and stonier than ever as he gradually perceived that Baron Jacobi was carrying on a set scheme with malignant ingenuity, to drive him out of Madeleine's house, and he swore a terrible oath that he would not be beaten by that monkey-faced foreigner. On the other hand Jacobi had little hope of success: "What can an old man do?" said he with perfect sincerity to Carrington; "If I were forty years younger, that great oaf should not have his own way. Ah! I wish I were young again and we were in Vienna!" From which it was rightly inferred by Carrington that the venerable diplomatist would, if such acts were still in fashion, have coolly insulted the Senator, and put a bullet through his heart.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 12:15 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 4

 

 

Sunday evening was stormy, and some enthusiasm was required to make one face its perils for the sake of society. Nevertheless, a few intimates made their appearance as usual at Mrs. Lee's. The faithful Popoff was there, and Miss Dare also ran in to pass an hour with her dear Sybil; but as she passed the whole evening in a corner with Popoff. she must have been disappointed in her object. Carrington came, and Baron Jacobi. Schneidekoupon and his sister dined with Mrs. Lee, and remained after dinner, while Sybil and Julia Schneidekoupon compared conclusions about Washington society. The happy idea also occurred to Mr. Gore that, inasmuch as Mrs. Lee's house was but a step from his hotel, he might as well take the chance of amusement there as the certainty of solitude in his rooms. Finally, Senator Ratcliffe duly made his appearance, and, having established himself with a cup of tea by Madeleine's side, was soon left to enjoy a quiet talk with her, the rest of the party by common consent occupying themselves with each other. Under cover of the murmur of conversation in the room, Mr. Ratcliffe quickiy became confidential.

"I came to suggest that, if you want to hear an interesting debate, you should come up to the Senate to-morrow. I am told that Garrard, of Louisiana, means to attack my last speech, and I shall probably in that case have to answer him. With you for a critic I shall speak better."

"Am I such an amiable critic?" asked Madeleine.

"I never heard that amiable critics were the best," said he; "justice is the soul of good criticism, and it is only justice that I ask and expect from you."

"What good does this speaking do?" inquired she. "Are you any nearer the end of your difficulties by means of your speeches?"

"I hardly know yet. Just now we are in dead water; but this can't last long.

In fact, I am not afraid to tell you, though of course you will not repeat it to any human being, that we have taken measures to force an issue.

Certain gentlemen, myself among the rest, have written letters meant for the President's eye, though not addressed directly to him, and intended to draw out an expression of some sort that will show us what to expect."

"Oh!" laughed Madeleine, "I knew about that a week ago."

"About what?"

"About your letter to Sam Grimes, of North Bend."

"What have you heard about my letter to Sam Grimes, of North Bend?"

ejaculated Ratcliffe, a little abruptly.

"Oh, you do not know how admirably I have organised my secret service bureau," said she. "Representative Cutter cross-questioned one of the Senate pages, and obliged him to confess that he had received from you a letter to be posted, which letter was addressed to Mr. Grimes, of North Bend."

"And, of course, he told this to French, and French told you," said Ratcliffe; "I see. If I had known this I would not have let French off so gently last night, for I prefer to tell you my own story without his embellishments. But it was my fault. I should not have trusted a page.

Nothing is a secret here long. But one thing that Mr. Cutter did not find out was that several other gentlemen wrote letters at the same time, for the same purpose. Your friend, Mr. Clinton, wrote; Krebs wrote; and one or two members."

"I suppose I must not ask what you said?"

"You may. We agreed that it was best to be very mild and conciliatory, and to urge the President only to give us some indication of his intentions, in order that we might not run counter to them. I drew a strong picture of the effect of the present situation on the party, and hinted that I had no personal wishes to gratify."

"And what do you think will be the result?"

"I think we shall somehow manage to straighten things out," said Ratcliffe.

"The difficulty is only that the new President has little experience, and is suspicious. He thinks we shall intrigue to tie his hands, and he means to tie ours in advance. I don't know him personally, but those who do, and who are fair judges, say that, though rather narrow and obstinate, he is honest enough, and will come round. I have no doubt I could settle it all with him in an hour's talk, but it is out of the question for me to go to him unless I am asked, and to ask me to come would be itself a settlement."

"What, then, is the danger you fear?"

"That he will offend all the important party leaders in order to conciliate unimportant ones, perhaps sentimental ones, like your friend French; that he will make foolish appointments without taking advice. By the way, have you seen French to-day?"

"No," replied Madeleine; "I think he must be sore at your treatment of him last evening. You were very rude to him."

"Not a bit," said Ratcliffe; "these reformers need it. His attack on me was meant for a challenge. I saw it in his manner.

"But is reform really so impossible as you describe it? Is it quite hopeless?"

"Reform such as he wants is utterly hopeless, and not even desirable."

Mrs. Lee, with much earnestness of manner, still pressed her question:

"Surely something can be done to check corruption. Are we for ever to be at the mercy of thieves and ruffians? Is a respectable government impossible in a democracy?"

Her warmth attracted Jacobi's attention, and he spoke across the room. "What is that you say, Mrs. Lee? What is it about corruption?"

All the gentlemen began to listen and gather about them.

"I am asking Senator Ratcliffe," said she, "what is to become of us if corruption is allowed to go unchecked."

"And may I venture to ask permission to hear Mr. Ratcliffe's reply?" asked the baron.

"My reply," said Ratcliffe, "is that no representative government can long be much better or much worse than the society it represents. Purify society and you purify the government. But try to purify the government artificially and you only aggravate failure."

"A very statesmanlike reply," said Baron Jacobi, with a formal bow, but his tone had a shade of mockery. Carrington, who had listened with a darkening face, suddenly turned to the baron and asked him what conclusion he drew from the reply.

"Ah!" exclaimed the baron, with his wickedest leer, "what for is my conclusion good? You Americans believe yourselves to be excepted from the operation of general laws. You care not for experience. I have lived seventy-five years, and all that time in the midst of corruption. I am corrupt myself, only I do have courage to proclaim it, and you others have it not. Rome, Paris, Vienna, Petersburg, London, all are corrupt; only Washington is pure! Well, I declare to you that in all my experience I have found no society which has had elements of corruption like the United States. The children in the street are corrupt, and know how to cheat me.

The cities are all corrupt, and also the towns and the counties and the States' legislatures and the judges. Everywhere men betray trusts both public and private, steal money, run away with public funds. Only in the Senate men take no money. And you gentlemen in the Senate very well declare that your great United States, which is the head of the civilized world, can never learn anything from the example of corrupt Europe. You are right--quite right! The great United States needs not an example. I do much regret that I have not yet one hundred years to live. If I could then come back to this city, I should find myself very content--much more than now. I am always content where there is much corruption, and ma parole d'honneur!"

broke out the old man with fire and gesture, "the United States will then be more corrupt than Rome under Caligula; more corrupt than the Church under Leo X.; more corrupt than France under the Regent!"

As the baron closed his little harangue, which he delivered directly at the senator sitting underneath him, he had the satisfaction to see that every one was silent and listening with deep attention. He seemed to enjoy annoying the senator, and he had the satisfaction of seeing that the senator was visibly annoyed. Ratcliffe looked sternly at the baron and said, with some curtness, that he saw no reason to accept such conclusions.

Conversation flagged, and all except the baron were relieved when Sybil, at Schneidekoupon's request, sat down at the piano to sing what she called a hymn. So soon as the song was over, Ratcliffe, who seemed to have been curiously thrown off his balance by Jacobi's harangue, pleaded urgent duties at his rooms, and retired. The others soon afterwards went off in a body, leaving only Carrington and Gore, who had seated himself by Madeleine, and was at once dragged by her into a discussion of the subject which perplexed her, and for the moment threw over her mind a net of irresistible fascination.

"The baron discomfited the senator," said Gore, with a certain hesitation.

"Why did Ratcliffe let himself be trampled upon in that manner?"

"I wish you would explain why," replied Mrs. Lee; "tell me, Mr. Gore--you who represent cultivation and literary taste hereabouts--please tell me what to think about Baron Jacobi's speech. Who and what is to be believed? Mr.

Ratcliffe seems honest and wise. Is he a corruptionist? He believes in the people, or says he does. Is he telling the truth or not?"

Gore was too experienced in politics to be caught in such a trap as this. He evaded the question. "Mr. Ratcliffe has a practical piece of work to do; his business is to make laws and advise the President; he does it extremely well. We have no other equally good practical politician; it is unfair to require him to be a crusader besides."

"No!" interposed Carrington, curtly; "but he need not obstruct crusades. He need not talk virtue and oppose the punishment of vice."

"He is a shrewd practical politician," replied Gore, "and he feels first the weak side of any proposed political tactics."

With a sigh of despair Madeleine went on: "Who, then, is right? How can we all be right? Half of our wise men declare that the world is going straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast becoming perfect. Both cannot be right. There is only one thing in life," she went on, laughing, "that I must and will have before I die. I must know whether America is right or wrong. Just now this question is a very practical one, for I really want to know whether to believe in Mr. Ratcliffe. If I throw him overboard, everything must go, for he is only a specimen."

"Why not believe in Mr. Ratcliffe?" said Gore; "I believe in him myself, and am not afraid to say so."

Carrington, to whom Ratcliffe now began to represent the spirit of evil, interposed here, and observed that he imagined Mr. Gore had other guides besides, and steadier ones than Ratcliffe, to believe in; while Madeleine, with a certain feminine perspicacity, struck at a much weaker point in Mr.

Gore's armour, and asked point-blank whether he believed also in what Ratcliffe represented: "Do you yourself think democracy the best government, and universal suffrage a success?"

Mr. Gore saw himself pinned to the wall, and he turned at bay with almost the energy of despair:

"These are matters about which I rarely talk in society; they are like the doctrine of a personal God; of a future life; of revealed religion; subjects which one naturally reserves for private reflection. But since you ask for my political creed, you shall have it. I only condition that it shall be for you alone, never to be repeated or quoted as mine. I believe in democracy. I accept it. I will faithfully serve and defend it. I believe in it because it appears to me the inevitable consequence of what has gone before it.

Democracy asserts the fact that the masses are now raised to a higher intelligence than formerly. All our civilisation aims at this mark. We want to do what we can to help it. I myself want to see the result. I grant it is an experiment, but it is the only direction society can take that is worth its taking; the only conception of its duty large enough to satisfy its instincts; the only result that is worth an effort or a risk. Every other possible step is backward, and I do not care to repeat the past. I am glad to see society grapple with issues in which no one can afford to be neutral."

"And supposing your experiment fails," said Mrs. Lee; "suppose society destroys itself with universal suffrage, corruption, and communism."

"I wish, Mrs. Lee, you would visit the Observatory with me some evening, and look at Sirius. Did you ever make the acquaintance of a fixed star? I believe astronomers reckon about twenty millions of them in sight, and an infinite possibility of invisible millions, each one of which is a sun, like ours, and may have satellites like our planet. Suppose you see one of these fixed stars suddenly increase in brightness, and are told that a satellite has fallen into it and is burning up, its career finished, its capacities exhausted? Curious, is it not; but what does it matter? Just as much as the burning up of a moth at your candle."

Madeleine shuddered a little. "I cannot get to the height of your philosophy," said she. "You are wandering among the infinites, and I am finite."

"Not at all! But I have faith; not perhaps in the old dogmas, but in the new ones; faith in human nature; faith in science; faith in the survival of the fittest. Let us be true to our time, Mrs. Lee! If our age is to be beaten, let us die in the ranks. If it is to be victorious, let us be first to lead the column. Anyway, let us not be skulkers or grumblers. There! have I repeated my catechism correctly? You would have it! Now oblige me by forgetting it. I should lose my character at home if it got out. Good night!"

Mrs. Lee duly appeared at the Capitol the next day, as she could not but do after Senator Ratcliffe's pointed request. She went alone, for Sybil had positively refused to go near the Capitol again, and Madeleine thought that on the whole this was not an occasion for enrolling Carrington in her service. But Ratcliffe did not speak. The debate was unexpectedly postponed.

He joined Mrs. Lee in the gallery, however, sat with her as long as she would allow, and became still more confidential, telling her that he had received the expected reply from Grimes, of North Bend, and that it had enclosed a letter written by the President-elect to Mr. Grimes in regard to the advances made by Mr. Ratcliffe and his friends.

"It is not a handsome letter," said he; "indeed, a part of it is positively insulting. I would like to read you one extract from it, and hear your opinion as to how it should be treated." Taking the letter from his pocket, he sought out the passage, and read as follows: "'I cannot lose sight, too, of the consideration that these three Senators' (he means Clinton, Krebs, and me) are popularly considered to be the most influential members of that so-called senatorial ring, which has acquired such general notoriety. While I shall always receive their communications with all due respect, I must continue to exercise complete freedom of action in consulting other political advisers as well as these, and I must in all cases make it my first object to follow the wishes of the people, not always most truly represented by their nominal representatives.' What say you to that precious piece of presidential manners?"

"At least I like his courage," said Mrs. Lee.

"Courage is one thing; common sense is another. This letter is a studied insult. He has knocked me off the track once. He means to do it again. It is a declaration of war. What ought I to do?"

"Whatever is most for the public good." said Madeleine, gravely.

Ratcliffe looked into her face with such undisguised delight--there was so little possibility of mistaking or ignoring the expression of his eyes, that she shrank back with a certain shock. She was not prepared for so open a demonstration. He hardened his features at once, and went on:

"But what is most for the public good?"

"That you know better than I," said Madeleine; "only one thing is clear to me. If you let yourself be ruled by your private feelings, you will make a greater mistake than he. Now I must go, for I have visits to make. The next time I come, Mr. Ratcliffe, you must keep your word better."

When they next met, Ratcliffe read to her a part of his reply to Mr. Grimes, which ran thus: "It is the lot of every party leader to suffer from attacks and to commit errors. It is true, as the President says, that I have been no exception to this law. Believing as I do that great results can only be accomplished by great parties, I have uniformly yielded my own personal opinions where they have failed to obtain general assent. I shall continue to follow this course, and the President may with perfect confidence count upon my disinterested support of all party measures, even though I may not be consulted in originating them."

Mrs. Lee listened attentively, and then said: "Have you never refused to go with your party?"

"Never!" was Ratcliffe's firm reply.

Madeleine still more thoughtfully inquired again: "Is nothing more powerful than party allegiance?"

"Nothing, except national allegiance," replied Ratcliffe, still more firmly.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 4:51 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 3

 

Mrs. Lee soon became popular. Her parlour was a favourite haunt of certain men and women who had the art of finding its mistress at home; an art which seemed not to be within the powers of everybody. Carrington was apt to be there more often than any one else, so that he was looked on as almost a part of the family, and if Madeleine wanted a book from the library, or an extra man at her dinner-table, Carrington was pretty certain to help her to the one or the other. Old Baron Jacobi, the Bulgarian minister, fell madly in love with both sisters, as he commonly did with every pretty face and neat figure. He was a witty, cynical, broken-down Parisian roué, kept in Washington for years past by his debts and his salary; always grumbling because there was no opera, and mysteriously disappearing on visits to New York; a voracious devourer of French and German literature, especially of novels; a man who seemed to have met every noted or notorious personage of the century, and whose mmd was a magazine of amusing information; an excellent musical critic, who was not afraid to criticise Sybil's singing; a connoisseur in bric-à-brac, who laughed at Madeleine's display of odds and ends, and occasionally brought her a Persian plate or a bit of embroidery, which he said was good and would do her credit. This old sinner believed in everything that was perverse and wicked, but he accepted the prejudices of Anglo-Saxon society, and was too clever to obtrude his opinions upon others.

He would have married both sisters at once more willingly than either alone, but as he feelingly said, "If I were forty years younger, mademoiselle, you should not sing to me so calmly." His friend Popoff, an intelligent, vivacious Russian, with very Calmuck features, susceptible as a girl, and passionately fond of music, hung over Sybil's piano by the hour; he brought Russian airs which he taught her to sing, and, if the truth were known, he bored Madeleine desperately, for she undertook to act the part of duenna to her younger sister.

A very different visitor was Mr. C. C. French, a young member of Congress from Connecticut, who aspired to act the part of the educated gentleman in politics, and to purify the public tone. He had reform principles and an unfortunately conceited maimer; he was rather wealthy, rather clever, rather well-educated, rather honest, and rather vulgar. His allegiance was divided between Mrs. Lee and her sister, whom he infuriated by addressing as "Miss Sybil" with patronising familiarity. He was particularly strong in what he called "badinaige," and his playful but ungainly attempts at wit drove Mrs.

Lee beyond the bounds of patience. When in a solemn mood, he talked as though he were practising for the ear of a college debating society, and with a still worse effect on the patience; but with all this he was useful, always bubbling with the latest political gossip, and deeply interested in the fate of party stakes. Quite another sort of person was Mr. Hartbeest Schneidekoupon, a citizen of Philadelphia, though commonly resident in New York, where he had fallen a victim to Sybil's charms, and made efforts to win her young affections by instructing her in the mysteries of currency and protection, to both which subjects he was devoted. To forward these two interests and to watch over Miss Ross's welfare, he made periodical visits to Washington, where he closeted himself with committee-men and gave expensive dinners to members of Congress. Mr. Schneidekoupon was rich, and about thirty years old, tall and thin, with bright eyes and smooth face, elaborate manners and much loquacity. He had the reputation of turning rapid intellectual somersaults, partly to amuse himself and partly to startle society. At one moment he was artistic, and discoursed scientifically about his own paintings; at another he was literary, and wrote a book on "Noble Living," with a humanitarian purpose; at another he was devoted to sport, rode a steeplechase, played polo, and set up a four-in-hand; his last occupation was to establish in Philadelphia the Protective Review, a periodical in the interests of American industry, which he edited himself, as a stepping-stone to Congress, the Cabinet, and the Presidency. At about the same time he bought a yacht, and heavy bets were pending among his sporting friends whether he would manage to sink first his Review or his yacht. But he was an amiable and excellent fellow through all his eccentricities, and he brought to Mrs. Lee the simple outpourings of the amateur politician.

A much higher type of character was Mr. Nathan Gore, of Massachusetts, a handsome man with a grey beard, a straight, sharply cut nose, and a fine, penetrating eye; in his youth a successful poet whose satires made a noise in their day, and are still remembered for the pungency and wit of a few verses; then a deep student in Europe for many years, until his famous "History of Spain in America" placed him instantly at the head of American historians, and made him minister at Madrid, where he remained four years to his entire satisfaction, this being the nearest approach to a patent of nobility and a government pension which the American citizen can attain. A change of administration had reduced him to private life again, and after some years of retirement he was now in Washington, willing to be restored to his old mission. Every President thinks it respectable to have at least one literary man in his pay, and Mr. Gore's prospects were fair for obtaining his object, as he had the active support of a majority of the Massachusetts delegation. He was abominably selfish, colossally egoistic, and not a little vain; but he was shrewd; he knew how to hold his tongue; he could flatter dexterously, and he had learned to eschew satire. Only in confidence and among friends he would still talk freely, but Mrs. Lee was not yet on those terms with him. These were all men, and there was no want of women in Mrs.

Lee's parlour; but, after all, they are able to describe themselves better than any poor novelist can describe them. Generally two currents of conversation ran on together--one round Sybil, the other about Madeleine.

"Mees Ross," said Count Popoff, leading in a handsome young foreigner, "I have your permission to present to you my friend Count Orsini, Secretary of the Italian Legation. Are you at home this afternoon? Count Orsini sings also."

"We are charmed to see Count Orsini. It is well you came so late, for I have this moment come in from making Cabinet calls. They were so queer! I have been crying with laughter for an hour past." "Do you find these calls amusing?" asked Popoff, gravely and diplomatically. "Indeed I do! I went with Julia Schneidekoupon, you know, Madeleine; the Schneidekoupons are descended from all the Kings of Israel, and are prouder than Solomon in his glory. And when we got into the house of some dreadful woman from Heaven knows where, imagine my feelings at overhearing this conversation: 'What may be your family name, ma'am?' 'Schneidekoupon is my name,' replies Julia, very tall and straight. 'Have you any friends whom I should likely know?' 'I think not,' says Julia, severely. 'Wal! I don't seem to remember of ever having heerd the name. But I s'pose it's all right. I like to know who calls.' I almost had hysterics when we got into the street, but Julia could not see the joke at all."

Count Orsini was not quite sure that he himself saw the joke, so he only smiled becomingly and showed his teeth. For simple, childlike vanity and self-consciousness nothing equals an Italian Secretary of Legation at twenty-five. Yet conscious that the effect of his personal beauty would perhaps be diminished by permanent silence, he ventured to murmur presently:

"Do you not find it very strange, this society in America?"

"Society!" laughed Sybil with gay contempt. "There are no snakes in America, any more than in Norway."

"Snakes, mademoiselle!" repeated Orsini, with the doubtful expression of one who is not quite certain whether he shall risk walking on thin ice, and decides to go softly: "Snakes! Indeed they would rather be doves I would call them."

A kind laugh from Sybil strengthened into conviction his hope that he had made a joke in this unknown tongue. His face brightened, his confidence returned; once or twice he softly repeated to himself: "Not snakes; they would be doves!" But Mrs. Lee's sensitive ear had caught Sybil's remark, and detected in it a certain tone of condescension which was not to her taste.

The impassive countenances of these bland young Secretaries of Legation seemed to acquiesce far too much as a matter of course in the idea that there was no society except in the old world. She broke into the conversation with an emphasis that fluttered the dove-cote:

"Society in America? Indeed there is society in America, and very good society too; but it has a code of its own, and new-comers seldom understand it. I will tell you what it is, Mr. Orsini, and you will never be in danger of making any mistake. 'Society' in America means all the honest, kindly-mannered, pleasant-voiced women, and all the good, brave, unassuming men, between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Each of these has a free pass in every city and village, 'good for this generation only,' and it depends on each to make use of this pass or not as it may happen to suit his or her fancy. To this rule there are no exceptions, and those who say 'Abraham is our father' will surely furnish food for that humour which is the staple product of our country."

The alarmed youths, who did not in the least understand the meaning of this demonstration, looked on with a feeble attempt at acquiescence, while Mrs.

Lee brandished her sugar-tongs in the act of transferring a lump of sugar to her cup, quite unconscious of the slight absurdity of the gesture, while Sybil stared in amazement, for it was not often that her sister waved the stars and stripes so energetically. Whatever their silent criticisms might be, however, Mrs. Lee was too much in earnest to be conscious of them, or, indeed, to care for anything but what she was saying. There was a moment's pause when she came to the end of her speech, and then the thread of talk was quietly taken up again where Sybil's incipient sneer had broken it.

Carrington came in. "What have you been doing at the Capitol?" asked Madeleine.

"Lobbying!" was the reply, given in the semi-serious tone of Carrington's humour.

"So soon, and Congress only two days old?" exclaimed Mrs. Lee.

"Madam," rejoined Carrington, with his quietest malice, "Congressmen are like birds of the air, which are caught only by the early worm." "Good afternoon, Mrs. Lee. Miss Sybil, how do you do again? Which of these gentlemen's hearts are you feeding upon now?" This was the refined style of Mr. French, indulging in what he was pleased to term "badinaige." He, too, was on his way from the Capitol, and had come in for a cup of tea and a little human society. Sybil made a face which plainly expressed a longing to inflict on Mr. French some grievous personal wrong, but she pretended not to hear. He sat down by Madeleine, and asked, "Did you see Ratcliffe yesterday?"

"Yes," said Madeleine; "he was here last evening with Mr. Carrington and one or two others."

"Did he say anything about politics?"

"Not a word. We talked mostly about books."

"Books! What does he know about books?"

"You must ask him."

"Well, this is the most ridiculous situation we are all in. No one knows anything about the new President. You could take your oath that everybody is in the dark. Ratcliffe says he knows as little as the rest of us, but it can't be true; he is too old a politician not to have wires in his hand; and only to-day one of the pages of the Senate told my colleague Cutter that a letter sent off by him yesterday was directed to Sam Grimes, of North Bend, who, as every one knows, belongs to the President's particular crowd. --Why, Mr. Schneidekoupon! How do you do? When did you come on?"

"Thank you; this morning," replied Mr. Schneidekoupon, just entering the room. "So glad to see you again, Mrs. Lee. How do you and your sister like Washington? Do you know I have brought Julia on for a visit? I thought I should find her here.

"She has just gone. She has been all the afternoon with Sybil, making calls.

She says you want her here to lobby for you, Mr. Schneidekoupon. Is it true?"

"So I did," replied he, with a laugh, "but she is precious little use. So I've come to draft you into the service."

"Me!"

"Yes; you know we all expect Senator Ratcliffe to be Secretary of the Treasury, and it is very important for us to keep him straight on the currency and the tariff. So I have come on to establish more intimate relations with him, as they say in diplomacy. I want to get him to dine with me at Welckley's, but as I know he keeps very shy of politics I thought my only chance was to make it a ladies' dinner, so I brought on Julia. I shall try and get Mrs. Schuyler Clinton, and I depend upon you and your sister to help Julia out."

"Me! at a lobby dinner! Is that proper?"

"Why not? You shall choose the guests."

"I never heard of such a thing; but it would certainly be amusing. Sybil must not go, but I might." "Excuse me; Julia depends upon Miss Ross, and will not go to table without her."

"Well," assented Mrs. Lee, hesitatingly, "perhaps if you get Mrs. Clinton, and if your sister is there And who else?"

"Choose your own company."

"I know no one."

"Oh yes; here is French, not quite sound on the tariff, but good for what we want just now. Then we can get Mr. Gore; he has his little hatchet to grind too, and will be glad to help grind ours. We only want two or three more, and I will have an extra man or so to fill up."

"Do ask the Speaker. I want to know him."

"I will, and Carrington, and my Pennsylvania Senator. That will do nobly.

Remember, Welckley's, Saturday at seven."

Meanwhile Sybil had been at the piano, and when she had sung for a time, Orsini was induced to take her place, and show that it was possible to sing without injury to one's beauty. Baron Jacobi came in and found fault with them both. Little Miss Dare--commonly known among her male friends as little Daredevil--who was always absorbed in some flirtation with a Secretary of Legation, came in, quite unaware that Popoff was present, and retired with him into a corner, while Orsini and Jacobi bullied poor Sybil, and fought with each other at the piano; everybody was talking with very little reference to any reply, when at last Mrs. Lee drove them all out of the room: "We are quiet people," said she, "and we dine at half-past six."

Senator Ratcliffe had not failed to make his Sunday evening call upon Mrs.

Lee. Perhaps it was not strictly correct to say that they had talked books all the evening, but whatever the conversation was, it had only confirmed Mr. Ratcliffe's admiration for Mrs. Lee, who, without intending to do so, had acted a more dangerous part than if she had been the most accomplished of coquettes. Nothing could be more fascinating to the weary politician in his solitude than the repose of Mrs. Lee's parlour, and when Sybil sang for him one or two simple airs--she said they were foreign hymns, the Senator being, or being considered, orthodox--Mr. Ratcliffe's heart yearned toward the charming girl quite with the sensations of a father, or even of an elder brother.

His brother senators very soon began to remark that the Prairie Giant had acquired a trick of looking up to the ladies' gallery. One day Mr. Jonathan Andrews, the special correspondent of the New York Sidereal System, a very friendly organ, approached Senator Schuyler Clinton with a puzzled look on his face.

"Can you tell me," said he, "what has happened to Silas P. Ratcliffe? Only a moment ago I was talking with him at his seat on a very important subject, about which I must send his opinions off to New York to-night, when, in the middle of a sentence, he stopped short, got up without looking at me, and left the Senate Chamber, and now I see him in the gallery talking with a lady whose face I don't know."

Senator Clinton slowly adjusted his gold eye-glasses and looked up at the place indicated: "Ah! Mrs. Lightfoot Lee! I think I will say a word to her myself;" and turning his back on the special correspondent, he skipped away with youthful agility after the Senator from Illinois.

"Devil!" muttered Mr. Andrews; "what has got into the old fools?" and in a still less audible murmur as he looked up to Mrs. Lee, then in close conversation with Ratcliffe: "Had I better make an item of that?"

When young Mr. Schneidekoupon called upon Senator Ratcliffe to invite him to the dinner at Welckley's, he found that gentleman overwhelmed with work, as he averred, and very little disposed to converse. No! he did not now go out to dinner. In the present condition of the public business he found it impossible to spare the time for such amusements. He regretted to decline Mr. Schneidekoupon's civility, but there were imperative reasons why he should abstain for the present from social entertainments; he had made but one exception to his rule, and only at the pressing request of his old friend Senator Clinton, and on a very special occasion.

Mr. Schneidekoupon was deeply vexed--the more, he said, because he had meant to beg Mr. and Mrs. Clinton to be of the party, as well as a very charming lady who rarely went into society, but who had almost consented to come.

"Who is that?" inquired the Senator.

"A Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, of New York. Probably you do not know her well enough to admire her as I do; but I think her quite the most intelligent woman I ever met."

The Senator's cold eyes rested for a moment on the young man's open face with a peculiar expression of distrust. Then he solemnly said, in his deepest senatorial tones:

"My young friend, at my time of life men have other things to occupy them than women, however intelligent they may be. Who else is to be of your party?"

Mr. Schneidekoupon named his list.

"And for Saturday evening at seven, did you say?"

"Saturday at seven."

"I fear there is little chance of my attending, but I will not absolutely decline. Perhaps when the moment arrives, I may find myself able to be there. But do not count upon me--do not count upon me. Good day, Mr.

Schneidekoupon."

Schneidekoupon was rather a simple-minded young man, who saw no deeper than his neighbours into the secrets of the universe, and he went off swearing roundly at "the infernal airs these senators give themselves." He told Mrs.

Lee all the conversation, as indeed he was compelled to do under penalty of bringing her to his party under false pretences.

"Just my luck," said he; "here I am forced to ask no end of people to meet a man, who at the same time says he shall probably not come. Why, under the stars, couldn't he say, like other people, whether he was coming or not?

I've known dozens of senators, Mrs. Lee, and they're all like that. They never think of any one but themselves."

Mrs. Lee smiled rather a forced smile, and soothed his wounded feelings; she had no doubt the dinner would be very agreeable whether the Senator were there or not; at any rate she would do all she could to carry it off well, and Sybil should wear her newest dress. Still she was a little grave, and Mr. Schneidekoupon could only declare that she was a trump; that he had told Ratcliffe she was the cleverest woman he ever met, and he might have added the most obliging, and Ratcliffe had only looked at him as though he were a green ape. At all which Mrs. Lee laughed good-naturedly, and sent him away as soon as she could.

When he was gone, she walked up and down the room and thought. She saw the meaning of Ratcliffe's sudden change in tone. She had no more doubt of his coming to the dinner than she had of the reason why he came. And was it possible that she was being drawn into something very near a flirtation with a man twenty years her senior; a politician from Illinois; a huge, ponderous, grey-eyed, bald senator, with a Websterian head, who lived in Peonia? The idea was almost too absurd to be credited; but on the whole the thing itself was rather amusing. "I suppose senators can look out for themselves like other men," was her final conclusion. She thought only of his danger, and she felt a sort of compassion for him as she reflected on the possible consequences of a great, absorbing love at his time of life.

Her conscience was a little uneasy; but of herself she never thought. Yet it is a historical fact that elderly senators have had a curious fascination for young and handsome women. Had they looked out for themselves too? And which parties most needed to be looked after?

When Madeleine and her sister arrived at Welckley's 's the next Saturday evening, they found poor Schneidekoupon in a temper very unbecoming a host.

"He won't come! I told you he wouldn't come!" said he to Madeleine, as he handed her into the house. "If I ever turn communist, it will be for the fun of murdering a senator."

Madeleine consoled him gently, but he continued to use, behind Mr. Clinton's back, language the most offensive and improper towards the Senate, and at last, ringing the bell, he sharply ordered the head waiter to serve dinner.

At that very moment the door opened, and Senator Ratcliffe's stately figure appeared on the threshold. His eye instantly caught Madeleine's, and she almost laughed aloud, for she saw that the Senator was dressed with very unsenatorial neatness; that he had actually a flower in his burton-hole and no gloves!

After the enthusiastic description which Schneidekoupon had given of Mrs.

Lee's charms, he could do no less than ask Senator Ratcliffe to take her in to dinner, which he did without delay. Either this, or the champagne, or some occult influence, had an extraordinary effect upon him. He appeared ten years younger than usual; his face was illuminated; his eyes glowed; he seemed bent on proving his kinship to the immortal Webster by rivalling his convivial powers. He dashed into the conversation; laughed, jested, and ridiculed; told stories in Yankee and Western dialect; gave sharp little sketches of amusing political experiences.

"Never was more surprised in my life," whispered Senator Krebs, of Pennsylvania, across the table to Schneidekoupon. "Hadn't an idea that Ratcliffe was so entertaining."

And Mr. Clinton, who sat by Madeleine on the other side, whispered low into her ear: "I am afraid, my dear Mrs. Lee, that you are responsible for this.

He never talks so to the Senate."

Nay, he even rose to a higher flight, and told the story of President Lincoln's death-bed with a degree of feeling that brought tears into their eyes. The other guests made no figure at all. The Speaker consumed his solitary duck and his lonely champagne in a corner without giving a sign.

Even Mr. Gore, who was not wont to hide his light under any kind of extinguisher, made no attempt to claim the floor, and applauded with enthusiasm the conversation of his opposite neighbour. Ill-natured people might say that Mr. Gore saw in Senator Ratcliffe a possible Secretary of State; be this as it may, he certainly said to Mrs. Clinton, in an aside that was perfectly audible to every one at the table: "How brilliant! what an original mind! what a sensation he would make abroad!" And it was quite true, apart from the mere momentary effect of dinner-table talk, that there was a certain bigness about the man; a keen practical sagacity; a bold freedom of self-assertion; a broad way of dealing with what he knew.

Carrington was the only person at table who looked on with a perfectly cool head, and who criticised in a hostile spirit. Carrington's impression of Ratcliffe was perhaps beginning to be warped by a shade of jealousy, for he was in a peculiarly bad temper this evening, and his irritation was not wholly concealed.

"If one only had any confidence in the man!" he muttered to French, who sat by him.

This unlucky remark set French to thinking how he could draw Ratcliffe out, and accordingly, with his usual happy manner, combining self-conceit and high principles, he began to attack the Senator with some "badinaige" on the delicate subject of Civil Service Reform, a subject almost as dangerous in political conversation at Washington as slavery itself in old days before the war. French was a reformer, and lost no occasion of impressing his views; but unluckily he was a very light weight, and his manner was a little ridiculous, so that even Mrs. Lee, who was herself a warm reformer, sometimes went over to the other side when he talked. No sooner had he now shot his little arrow at the Senator, than that astute man saw his opportunity, and promised himself the pleasure of administering to Mr.

French punishment such as he knew would delight the company. Reformer as Mrs. Lee was, and a little alarmed at the roughness of Ratcliffe's treatment, she could not blame the Prairie Giant, as she ought, who, after knocking poor French down, rolled him over and over in the mud.

"Are you financier enough, Mr. French, to know what are the most famous products of Connecticut?"

Mr. French modestly suggested that he thought its statesmen best answered that description.

"No, sir! even there you're wrong. The showmen beat you on your own ground.

But every child in the union knows that the most famous products of Connecticut are Yankee notions, nutmegs made of wood and clocks that won't go. Now, your Civil Service Reform is just such another Yankee notion; it's a wooden nutmeg; it's a clock with a show case and sham works. And you know it! You are precisely the old-school Connecticut peddler. You have gone about peddling your wooden nutmegs until you have got yourself into Congress, and now you pull them out of your pockets and not only want us to take them at your own price, but you lecture us on our sins if we don't.

Well! we don't mind your doing that at home. Abuse us as much as you like to your constituents. Get as many votes as you can. But don't electioneer here, because we know you intimately, and we've all been a little in the wooden nutmeg business ourselves."

Senator Clinton and Senator Krebs chuckied high approval over this punishment of poor French, which was on the level of their idea of wit. They were all in the nutmeg business, as Ratcliffe said. The victim tried to make head against them; he protested that his nutmegs were genuine; he sold no goods that he did not guarantee; and that this particular article was actually guaranteed by the national conventions of both political parties.

"Then what you want, Mr. French, is a common school education. You need a little study of the alphabet. Or if you won't believe me, ask my brother senators here what chance there is for your Reforms so long as the American citizen is what he "You'll not get much comfort in my State, Mr. French," growled the senator from Pennsylvania, with a sneer; "suppose you come and try."

"Well, well!" said the benevolent Mr. Schuyler Clinton, gleaming benignantly through his gold spectacles; "don't be too hard on French. He means well.

Perhaps he's not very wise, but he does good. I know more about it than any of you, and I don't deny that the thing is all bad. Only, as Mr. Ratcliffe says, the difficulty is in the people, not in us. Go to work on them, French, and let us alone."

French repented of his attack, and contented himself by muttering to Carrington: "What a set of damned old reprobates they are!"

"They are right, though, in one thing," was Carrington's reply: "their advice is good. Never ask one of them to reform anything; if you do, you will be reformed yourself."

The dinner ended as brilliantly as it began, and Schneidekoupon was delighted with his success. He had made himself particularly agreeable to Sybil by confiding in her all his hopes and fears about the tariff and the finances. When the ladies left the table, Ratcliffe could not stay for a cigar; he must get back to his rooms, where he knew several men were waiting for him; he would take his leave of the ladies and hurry away. But when the gentlemen came up nearly an hour afterwards they found Ratcliffe still taking his leave of the ladies, who were delighted at his entertaining conversation; and when at last he really departed, he said to Mrs. Lee, as though it were quite a matter of course: "You are at home as usual to-morrow evening?" Madeleine smiled, bowed, and he went his way.

As the two sisters drove home that night, Madeleine was unusually silent.

Sybil yawned convulsively and then apologized:

"Mr. Schneidekoupon is very nice and good-natured, but a whole evening of him goes a long way; and that horrid Senator Krebs would not say a word, and drank a great deal too much wine, though it couldn't make him any more stupid than he is. I don't think I care for senators." Then, wearily, after a pause: "Well, Maude, I do hope you've got what you wanted. I'm sure you must have had politics enough. Haven't you got to the heart of your great American mystery yet?"

"Pretty near it, I think," said Madeleine, half to herself.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 4:36 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 2

 

 

On the first of December, Mrs. Lee took the train for Washington, and before five o'clock that evening she was entering her newly hired house on Lafayette Square. She shrugged her shoulders with a mingled expression of contempt and grief at the curious barbarism of the curtains and the wall-papers, and her next two days were occupied with a life-and-death struggle to get the mastery over her surroundings. In this awful contest the interior of the doomed house suffered as though a demon were in it; not a chair, not a mirror, not a carpet, was left untouched, and in the midst of the worst confusion the new mistress sat, calm as the statue of Andrew Jackson in the square under her eyes, and issued her orders with as much decision as that hero had ever shown. Towards the close of the second day, victory crowned her forehead. A new era, a nobler conception of duty and existence, had dawned upon that benighted and heathen residence. The wealth of Syria and Persia was poured out upon the melancholy Wilton carpets; embroidered comets and woven gold from Japan and Teheran depended from and covered over every sad stuff-curtain; a strange medley of sketches, paintings, fans, embroideries, and porcelain was hung, nailed, pinned, or stuck against the wall; finally the domestic altarpiece, the mystical Corot landscape, was hoisted to its place over the parlour fire, and then all was over. The setting sun streamed softly in at the windows, and peace reigned in that redeemed house and in the heart of its mistress.

"I think it will do now, Sybil," said she, surveying the scene.

"It must," replied Sybil. "You haven't a plate or a fan or coloured scarf left. You must send out and buy some of these old negro-women's bandannas if you are going to cover anything else. What is the use? Do you suppose any human being in Washington will like it? They will think you demented."

"There is such a thing as self-respect," replied her sister, calmly.

Sybil--Miss Sybil Ross--was Madeleine Lee's sister. The keenest psychologist could not have detected a single feature quality which they had in common, and for that reason they were devoted friends. Madeleine was thirty, Sybil twenty-four. Madeleine was indescribable; Sybil was transparent. Madeleine was of medium height with a graceful figure, a well-set head, and enough golden-brown hair to frame a face full of varying expression. Her eyes were never for two consecutive hours of the same shade, but were more often blue than grey. People who envied her smile said that she cultivated a sense of humour in order to show her teeth. Perhaps they were right; but there was no doubt that her habit of talking with gesticulation would never have grown upon her unless she had known that her hands were not only beautiful but expressive. She dressed as skilfully as New York women do, but in growing older she began to show symptoms of dangerous unconventionality. She had been heard to express a low opinion of her countrywomen who blindly fell down before the golden calf of Mr. Worth, and she had even fought a battle of great severity, while it lasted, with one of her best-dressed friends who had been invited--and had gone--to Mr. Worth's afternoon tea-parties. The secret was that Mrs. Lee had artistic tendencies, and unless they were checked in time, there was no knowing what might be the consequence. But as yet they had done no harm; indeed, they rather helped to give her that sort of atmosphere which belongs only to certain women; as indescribable as the afterglow; as impalpable as an Indian summer mist; and non-existent except to people who feel rather than reason. Sybil had none of it. The imagination gave up all attempts to soar where she came. A more straightforward, downright, gay, sympathetic, shallow, warm-hearted, sternly practical young woman has rarely touched this planet. Her mind had room for neither grave-stones nor guide-books; she could not have lived in the past or the future if she had spent her days in churches and her nights in tombs. "She was not clever, like Madeleine, thank Heaven." Madeleine was not an orthodox member of the church; sermons bored her, and clergymen never failed to irritate every nerve in her excitable system. Sybil was a simple and devout worshipper at the ritualistic altar; she bent humbly before the Paulist fathers. When she went to a ball she always had the best partner in the room, and took it as a matter of course; but then, she always prayed for one; somehow it strengthened her faith. Her sister took care never to laugh at her on this score, or to shock her religious opinions. "Time enough," said she, "for her to forget religion when religion fails her." As for regular attendance at church, Madeleine was able to reconcile their habits without trouble. She herself had not entered a church for years; she said it gave her unchristian feelings; but Sybil had a voice of excellent quality, well trained and cultivated: Madeleine insisted that she should sing in the choir, and by this little manoeuvre, the divergence of their paths was made less evident. Madeleine did not sing, and therefore could not go to church with Sybil. This outrageous fallacy seemed perfectly to answer its purpose, and Sybil accepted it, in good faith, as a fair working principle which explained itself.

Madeleine was sober in her tastes. She wasted no money. She made no display.

She walked rather than drove, and wore neither diamonds nor brocades. But the general impression she made was nevertheless one of luxury. On the other hand, her sister had her dresses from Paris, and wore them and her ornaments according to all the formulas; she was good-naturedly correct, and bent her round white shoulders to whatever burden the Parisian autocrat chose to put upon them. Madeleine never interfered, and always paid the bills.

Before they had been ten days in Washington, they fell gently into their place and were carried along without an effort on the stream of social life.

Society was kind; there was no reason for its being otherwise. Mrs. Lee and her sister had no enemies, held no offices, and did their best to make themselves popular. Sybil had not passed summers at Newport and winters in New York in vain; and neither her face nor her figure, her voice nor her dancing, needed apology. Politics were not her strong point. She was induced to go once to the Capitol and to sit ten minutes in the gallery of the Senate. No one ever knew what her impressions were; with feminine tact she managed not to betray herself But, in truth, her notion of legislative bodies was vague, floating between her experience at church and at the opera, so that the idea of a performance of some kind was never out of her head. To her mind the Senate was a place where people went to recite speeches, and she naively assumed that the speeches were useful and had a purpose, but as they did not interest her she never went again. This is a very common conception of Congress; many Congressmen share it.

Her sister was more patient and bolder. She went to the Capitol nearly every day for at least two weeks. At the end of that time her interest began to flag, and she thought it better to read the debates every morning in the Congressional Record. Finding this a laborious and not always an instructive task, she began to skip the dull parts; and in the absence of any exciting question, she at last resigned herself to skipping the whole. Nevertheless she still had energy to visit the Senate gallery occasionally when she was told that a splendid orator was about to speak on a question of deep interest to his country. She listened with a little disposition to admire, if she could; and, whenever she could, she did admire. She said nothing, but she listened sharply. She wanted to learn how the machinery of government worked, and what was the quality of the men who controlled it. One by one, she passed them through her crucibles, and tested them by acids and by fire.

A few survived her tests and came out alive, though more or less disfigured, where she had found impurities. Of the whole number, only one retained under this process enough character to interest her.

In these early visits to Congress, Mrs. Lee sometimes had the company of John Carrington, a Washington lawyer about forty years old, who, by virtue of being a Virginian and a distant connection of her husband, called himself a cousin, and took a tone of semi-intimacy, which Mrs. Lee accepted because Carrington was a man whom she liked, and because he was one whom life had treated hardly. He was of that unfortunate generation in the south which began existence with civil war, and he was perhaps the more unfortunate because, like most educated Virginians of the old Washington school, he had seen from the first that, whatever issue the war took, Virginia and he must be ruined. At twenty-two he had gone into the rebel army as a private and carried his musket modestly through a campaign or two, after which he slowly rose to the rank of senior captain in his regiment, and closed his services on the staff of a major-general, always doing scrupulously enough what he conceived to be his duty, and never doing it with enthusiasm. When the rebel armies surrendered, he rode away to his family plantation--not a difficult thing to do, for it was only a few miles from Appomatox--and at once began to study law; then, leaving his mother and sisters to do what they could with the worn-out plantation, he began the practice of law in Washington, hoping thus to support himself and them. He had succeeded after a fashion, and for the first time the future seemed not absolutely dark. Mrs. Lee's house was an oasis to him, and he found himself, to his surprise, aimost gay in her company. The gaiety was of a very qulet kind, and Sybil, while friendly with him, averred that he was certainly dull; but this dulness had a fascination for Madeleine, who, having tasted many more kinds of the wine of life than Sybil, had learned to value certain delicacies of age and flavour that were lost upon younger and coarser palates. He talked rather slowly and almost with effort, but he had something of the dignity--others call it stiffness--of the old Virginia school, and twenty years of constant responsibility and deferred hope had added a touch of care that bordered closely on sadness. His great attraction was that he never talked or seemed to think of himself. Mrs. Lee trusted in him by instinct. "He is a type!" said she; "he is my idea of George Washington at thirty."

One morning in December, Carrington entered Mrs. Lee's parlour towards noon, and asked if she cared to visit the Capitol.

"You will have a chance of hearing to-day what may be the last great speech of our greatest statesman," said he; "you should come."

"A splendid sample of our na-tive raw material, sir?" asked she, fresh from a reading of Dickens, and his famous picture of American statesmanship.

"Precisely so," said Carrington; "the Prairie Giant of Peonia, the Favourite Son of Illinois; the man who came within three votes of getting the party nomination for the Presidency last spring, and was only defeated because ten small intriguers are sharper than one big one. The Honourable Silas P.

Ratcliffe, Senator from Illinois; he will be run for the Presidency yet."

"What does the P. stand for?" asked Sybil.

"I don't remember ever to have heard his middle name," said Carrington.

"Perhaps it is Peonia or Prairie; I can't say."

"He is the man whose appearance struck me so much when we were in the Senate last week, is he not? A great, ponderous man, over six feet high, very senatorial and dignified, with a large head and rather good features?" inquired Mrs. Lee.

"The same," replied Carrington. "By all means hear him speak. He is the stumbling-block of the new President, who is to be allowed no peace unless he makes terms with Ratcliffe; and so every one thinks that the Prairie Giant of Peonia will have the choice of the State or Treasury Department. If he takes either it will be the Treasury, for he is a desperate political manager, and will want the patronage for the next national convention."

Mrs. Lee was delighted to hear the debate, and Carrington was delighted to sit through it by her side, and to exchange running comments with her on the speeches and the speakers.

"Have you ever met the Senator?" asked she.

"I have acted several times as counsel before his committees. He is an excellent chairman, always attentive and generally civil."

"Where was he born?"

"The family is a New England one, and I believe respectable. He came, I think, from some place in the Connecticut Valley, but whether Vermont, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts, I don't know."

"Is he an educated man?"

"He got a kind of classical education at one of the country colleges there.

I suspect he has as much education as is good for him. But he went West very soon after leaving college, and being then young and fresh from that hot-bed of abolition, he threw himself into the anti-slavery movement m Illinois, and after a long struggle he rose with the wave. He would not do the same thing now."

"Why not?"

"He is older, more experienced, and not so wise. Besides, he has no longer the time to wait. Can you see his eyes from here? I call them Yankee eyes."

"Don't abuse the Yankees," said Mrs. Lee; "I am half Yankee myself."

"Is that abuse? Do you mean to deny that they have eyes?"

"I concede that there may be eyes among them; but Virginians are not fair judges of their expression."

"Cold eyes," he continued; "steel grey, rather small, not unpleasant in good-humour, diabolic in a passion, but worst when a little suspicious; then they watch you as though you were a young rattle-snake, to be killed when convenient."

"Does he not look you in the face?"

"Yes; but not as though he liked you. His eyes only seem to ask the possible uses you might be put to. Ah, the vice-president has given him the floor; now we shall have it. Hard voice, is it not? like his eyes. Hard manner, like his voice. Hard all through."

"What a pity he is so dreadfully senatorial!" said Mrs. Lee; "otherwise I rather admire him."

"Now he is settling down to his work," continued Carrington. "See how he dodges all the sharp issues. What a thing it is to be a Yankee! What a genius the fellow has for leading a party! Do you see how well it is all done? The new President flattered and conciliated, the party united and given a strong lead. And now we shall see how the President will deal with him. Ten to one on Ratcliffe. Come, there is that stupid ass from Missouri getting up. Let us go."

As they passed down the steps and out into the Avenue, Mrs. Lee turned to Carrington as though she had been reflecting deeply and had at length reached a decision.

"Mr. Carrington," said she, "I want to know Senator Ratcliffe."

"You will meet him to-morrow evening," replied Carrington, "at your senatorial dinner."

The Senator from New York, the Honourable Schuyler Clinton, was an old admirer of Mrs. Lee, and his wife was a cousin of hers, more or less distant. They had lost no time in honouring the letter of credit she thus had upon them, and invited her and her sister to a solemn dinner, as imposing as political dignity could make it. Mr. Carrington, as a connection of hers, was one of the party, and almost the only one among the twenty persons at table who had neither an office, nor a title, nor a constituency.

Senator Clinton received Mrs. Lee and her sister with tender enthusiasm, for they were attractive specimens of his constituents. He pressed their hands and evidently restrained himself only by an effort from embracing them, for the Senator had a marked regard for pretty women, and had made love to every girl with any pretensions to beauty that had appeared in the State of New York for fully half a century. At the same time he whispered an apology in her ear; he regretted so much that he was obliged to forego the pleasure of taking her to dinner; Washington was the only city in America where this could have happened, but it was a fact that ladies here were very great stickiers for etiquette; on the other hand he had the sad consolation that she would be the gainer, for he had allotted to her Lord Skye, the British Minister, "a most agreeable man and not married, as I have the misfortune to be;" and on the other side "I have ventured to place Senator Ratcliffe, of Illinois, whose admirable speech I saw you listening to with such rapt attention yesterday. I thought you might like to know him. Did I do right?"

Madeleine assured him that he had divined her inmost wishes, and he turned with even more warmth of affection to her sister: "As for you, my dear--dear Sybil, what can I do to make your dinner agreeable? If I give your sister a coronet, I am only sorry not to have a diadem for you. But I have done everything in my power. The first Secretary of the Russian Legation, Count Popoff, will take you in; a charming young man, my dear Sybil; and on your other side I have placed the Assistant Secretary of State, whom you know."

And so, after the due delay, the party settled themselves at the dinner-table, and Mrs. Lee found Senator Ratcliffe's grey eyes resting on her face for a moment as they sat down.

Lord Skye was very agreeable, and, at almost any other moment of her life, Mrs. Lee would have liked nothing better than to talk with him from the beginning to the end of her dinner. Tall, slender, bald-headed, awkward, and stammering with his elaborate British stammer whenever it suited his convenience to do so; a sharp observer who had wit which he commonly concealed; a humourist who was satisfied to laugh silently at his own humour; a diplomatist who used the mask of frankness with great effect; Lord Skye was one of the most popular men in Washington. Every one knew that he was a ruthless critic of American manners, but he had the art to combine ridicule with good-humour, and he was all the more popular accordingly. He was an outspoken admirer of American women in everything except their voices, and he did not even shrink from occasionally quizzing a little the national peculiarities of his own countrywomen; a sure piece of flattery to their American cousins. He would gladly have devoted himself to Mrs. Lee, but decent civility required that he should pay some attention to his hostess, and he was too good a diplomatist not to be attentive to a hostess who was the wife of a Senator, and that Senator the chairman of the committee of foreign relations.

The moment his head was turned, Mrs. Lee dashed at her Peonia Giant, who was then consuming his fish, and wishing he understood why the British Minister had worn no gloves, while he himself had sacrificed his convictions by wearing the largest and whitest pair of French kids that could be bought for money on Pennsylvania Avenue. There was a little touch of mortification in the idea that he was not quite at home among fashionable people, and at this instant he felt that true happiness was only to be found among the simple and honest sons and daughters of toil. A certain secret jealousy of the British Minister is always lurking in the breast of every American Senator, if he is truly democratic; for democracy, rightly understood, is the government of the people, by the people, for the benefit of Senators, and there is always a danger that the British Minister may not understand this political principle as he should. Lord Skye had run the risk of making two blunders; of offending the Senator from New York by neglecting his wife, and the Senator from Illinois by engrossing the attention of Mrs. Lee. A young Englishman would have done both, but Lord Skye had studied the American constitution. The wife of the Senator from New York now thought him most agreeable, and at the same moment the Senator from Illinois awoke to the conviction that after all, even in frivolous and fashionable circles, true dignity is in no danger of neglect; an American Senator represents a sovereign state; the great state of Illinois is as big as England--with the convenient omission of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, India, Australia, and a few other continents and islands; and in short, it was perfectly clear that Lord Skye was not formidable to him, even in light society; had not Mrs. Lee herself as good as said that no position equaHed that of an American Senator?

In ten minutes Mrs. Lee had this devoted statesman at her feet. She had not studied the Senate without a purpose. She had read with unerring instinct one general characteristic of all Senators, a boundless and guileless thirst for flattery, engendered by daily draughts from political friends or dependents, then becoming a necessity like a dram, and swallowed with a heavy smile of ineffable content. A single glance at Mr. Ratcliffe's face showed Madeleine that she need not be afraid of flattering too grossly; her own self-respect, not his, was the only restraint upon her use of this feminine bait.

She opened upon him with an apparent simplicity and gravity, a quiet repose of manner, and an evident consciousness of her own strength, which meant that she was most dangerous.

"I heard your speech yesterday, Mr. Ratcliffe. I am glad to have a chance of telling you how much I was impressed by it. It seemed to me masterly. Do you not find that it has had a great effect?"

"I thank you, madam. I hope it will help to unite the party, but as yet we have had no time to measure its results. That will require several days more." The Senator spoke in his senatorial manner, elaborate, condescending, and a little on his guard.

"Do you know," said Mrs. Lee, turning towards him as though he were a valued friend, and looking deep into his eyes, "Do you know that every one told me I should be shocked by the falling off in political ability at Washington? I did not believe them, and since hearing your speech I am sure they are mistaken. Do you yourself think there is less ability in Congress than there used to be?"

"Well, madam, it is difficult to answer that question. Government is not so easy now as it was formerly. There are different customs. There are many men of fair abilities in public life; many more than there used to be; and there is sharper criticism and more of it."

"Was I right in thinking that you have a strong resemblance to Daniel Webster in your way of speaking? You come from the same neighbourhood, do you not?"

Mrs. Lee here hit on Ratcliffe's weak point; the outline of his head had, in fact, a certain resemblance to that of Webster, and he prided himself upon it, and on a distant relationship to the Expounder of the Constitution; he began to think that Mrs. Lee was a very intelligent person. His modest admission of the resemblance gave her the opportunity to talk of Webster 's oratory, and the conversation soon spread to a discussion of the merits of Clay and Calhoun. The Senator found that his neighbour--a fashionable New York woman, exquisitely dressed, and with a voice and manner seductively soft and gentle--had read the speeches of Webster and Calhoun. She did not think it necessary to tell him that she had persuaded the honest Carrington to bring her the volumes and to mark such passages as were worth her reading; but she took care to lead the conversation, and she criticised with some skill and more humour the weak points in Websterian oratory, saying with a little laugh and a glance into his delighted eyes:

"My judgment may not be worth much, Mr. Senator, but it does seem to me that our fathers thought too much of themselves, and till you teach me better I shall continue to think that the passage in your speech of yesterday which began with, 'Our strength lies in this twisted and tangled mass of isolated principles, the hair of the half-sleeping giant of Party,' is both for language and imagery quite equal to anything of Webster's."

The Senator from Illinois rose to this gaudy fly like a huge, two-hundred-pound salmon; his white waistcoat gave out a mild silver reflection as he slowly came to the surface and gorged the hook. He made not even a plunge, not one perceptible effort to tear out the barbed weapon, but, floating gently to her feet, allowed himself to be landed as though it were a pleasure. Only miserable casuists will ask whether this was fair play on Madeleine's part; whether flattery so gross cost her conscience no twinge, and whether any woman can without self-abasement be guilty of such shameless falsehood. She, however, scorned the idea of falsehood. She would have defended herself by saying that she had not so much praised Ratcliffe as depreciated Webster, and that she was honest in her opinion of the old-fashioned American oratory. But she could not deny that she had wilfully allowed the Senator to draw conclusions very different from any she actually held. She could not deny that she had intended to flatter him to the extent necessary for her purpose, and that she was pleased at her success. Before they rose from table the Senator had quite unbent himself; he was talking naturally, shrewdly, and with some humour; he had told her Illinois stories; spoken with extraordinary freedom about his political situation; and expressed the wish to call upon Mrs. Lee, if he could ever hope to find her at home.

"I am always at home on Sunday evenings," said she.

To her eyes he was the high-priest of American politics; he was charged with the meaning of the mysteries, the clue to political hieroglyphics. Through him she hoped to sound the depths of statesmanship and to bring up from its oozy bed that pearl of which she was in search; the mysterious gem which must lie hidden somewhere in politics. She wanted to understand this man; to turn him inside out; to experiment on him and use him as young physiologists use frogs and kittens. If there was good or bad in him, she meant to find its meaning.

And he was a western widower of fifty; his quarters in Washington were in gaunt boarding-house rooms, furnished only with public documents and enlivened by western politicians and office-seekers. In the summer he retired to a solitary, white framehouse with green blinds, surrounded by a few feet of uncared-for grass and a white fence; its interior more dreary still, with iron stoves, oil-cloth carpets, cold white walls, and one large engraving of Abraham Lincoln in the parlour; all in Peonia, Illinois! What equality was there between these two combatants? what hope for him? what risk for her? And yet Madeleine Lee had fully her match in Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 4:15 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Chapter 1

 

For reasons which many persons thought ridiculous, Mrs. Lightfoot Lee decided to pass the winter in Washington. She was in excellent health, but she said that the climate would do her good. In New York she had troops of friends, but she suddenly became eager to see again the very small number of those who lived on the Potomac. It was only to her closest intimates that she honestly acknowledged herself to be tortured by ennui. Since her husband's death, five years before, she had lost her taste for New York society; she had felt no interest in the price of stocks, and very little in the men who dealt in them; she had become serious. What was it all worth, this wilderness of men and women as monotonous as the brown stone houses they lived in? In her despair she had resorted to desperate measures. She had read philosophy in the original German, and the more she read, the more she was disheartened that so much culture should lead to nothing--nothing.

After talking of Herbert Spencer for an entire evening with a very literary transcendental commission-merchant, she could not see that her time had been better employed than when in former days she had passed it in flirting with a very agreeable young stock-broker; indeed, there was an evident proof to the contrary, for the flirtation might lead to something--had, in fact, led to marriage; while the philosophy could lead to nothing, unless it were perhaps to another evening of the same kind, because transcendental philosophers are mostly elderly men, usually married, and, when engaged in business, somewhat apt to be sleepy towards evening. Nevertheless Mrs. Lee did her best to turn her study to practical use. She plunged into philanthropy, visited prisons, inspected hospitals, read the literature of pauperism and crime, saturated herself with the statistics of vice, until her mind had nearly lost sight of virtue. At last it rose in rebellion against her, and she came to the limit of her strength. This path, too, seemed to lead nowhere. She declared that she had lost the sense of duty, and that, so far as concerned her, all the paupers and criminals in New York might henceforward rise in their majesty and manage every railway on the continent. Why should she care? What was the city to her? She could find nothing in it that seemed to demand salvation. What gave peculiar sanctity to numbers? Why were a million people, who all resembled each other, any way more interesting than one person? What aspiration could she help to put into the mind of this great million-armed monster that would make it worth her love or respect? Religion? A thousand powerful churches were doing their best, and she could see no chance for a new faith of which she was to be the inspired prophet. Ambition? High popular ideals? Passion for whatever is lofty and pure? The very words irritated her. Was she not herself devoured by ambition, and was she not now eating her heart out because she could find no one object worth a sacrifice?

Was it ambition--real ambition--or was it mere restlessness that made Mrs. Lightfoot Lee so bitter against New York and Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston, American life in general and all life in particular? What did she want? Not social position, for she herself was an eminently respectable Philadelphian by birth; her father a famous clergyman; and her husband had been equally irreproachable, a descendant of one branch of the Virginia Lees, which had drifted to New York in search of fortune, and had found it, or enough of it to keep the young man there. His widow had her own place in society which no one disputed. Though not brighter than her neighbours, the world persisted in classing her among clever women; she had wealth, or at least enough of itto give her all that money can give by way of pleasure to a sensible woman in an American city; she had her house and her carriage; she dressed well; her table was good, and her furniture was never allowed to fall behind the latest standard of decorative art. She had travelled in Europe, and after several visits, covering some years of time, had retumed home, carrying in one hand, as it were, a green-grey landscape, a remarkably pleasing specimen of Corot, and in the other some bales of Persian and Syrian rugs and embroideries, Japanese bronzes and porcelain. With this she declared Europe to be exhausted, and she frankly avowed that she was American to the tips of her fingers; she neither knew nor greatly cared whether America or Europe were best to live in; she had no violent love for either, and she had no objection to abusing both; but she meant to get all that American life had to offer, good or bad, and to drink it down to the dregs, fully determined that whatever there was in it she would have, and that whatever could be made out of it she would manufacture. "I know," said she, "that America produces petroleum and pigs; I have seen both on the steamers; and I am told it produces silver and gold. There is choice enough for any woman."

Yet, as has been already said, Mrs. Lee's first experience was not a success. She soon declared that New York might represent the petroleum or the pigs, but the gold of life was not to be discovered there by her eyes.

Not but that there was variety enough; a variety of people, occupations, aims, and thoughts; but that all these, after growing to a certain height, stopped short. They found nothing to hold them up. She knew, more or less intimately, a dozen men whose fortunes ranged between one million and forty millions. What did they do with their money? What could they do with it that was different from what other men did? After all, it is absurd to spend more money than is enough to satisfy all one's wants; it is vulgar to live in two houses in the same street, and to drive six horses abreast. Yet, after setting aside a certain income sufficient for all one's wants, what was to be done with the rest? To let it accumulate was to own one's failure; Mrs. Lee's great grievance was that it did accumulate, without changing or improving the quality of its owners. To spend it in charity and public works was doubtless praiseworthy, but was it wise? Mrs. Lee had read enough political economy and pauper reports to be nearly convinced that public work should be public duty, and that great benefactions do harm as well as good.

And even supposing it spent on these objects, how could it do more than increase and perpetuate that same kind of human nature which was her great grievance? Her New York friends could not meet this question except by falling back upon their native commonplaces, which she recklessly trampled upon, averring that, much as she admired the genius of the famous traveller, Mr. Gulliver, she never had been able, since she became a widow, to accept the Brobdingnagian doctrine that he who made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before deserved better of mankind than the whole race of politicians. She would not find fault with the philosopher had he required that the grass should be of an improved quality; "but," said she, "I cannot honestly pretend that I should be pleased to see two New York men where I now see one; the idea is too ridiculous; more than one and a half would be fatal to me."

Then came her Boston friends, who suggested that higher education was precisely what she wanted; she should throw herself into a crusade for universities and art-schools. Mrs. Lee turned upon them with a sweet smile; "Do you know," said she, "that we have in New York already the richest university in America, and that its only trouble has always been that it can get no scholars even by paying for them? Do you want me to go out into the streets and waylay boys? If the heathen refuse to be converted, can you give me power over the stake and the sword to compel them to come in? And suppose you can? Suppose I march all the boys in Fifth Avenue down to the university and have them all properly taught Greek and Latin, English literature, ethics, and German philosophy. What then? You do it in Boston. Now tell me honestly what comes of it. I suppose you have there a brilliant society; numbers of poets, scholars, philosophers, statesmen, all up and down Beacon Street. Your evenings must be sparkling. Your press must scintillate. How is it that we New Yorkers never hear of it? We don't go much into your society; but when we do, it doesn't seem so very much better than our own. You are just like the rest of us. You grow six inches high, and then you stop. Why will not somebody grow to be a tree and cast a shadow?"

The average member of New York society, although not unused to this contemptuous kind of treatment from his leaders, retaliated in his blind, common-sense way. "What does the woman want?" he said. "Is her head turned with the Tulieries and Marlborough House? Does she think herself made for a throne? Why does she not lecture for women's rights? Why not go on the stage? If she cannot be contented like other people, what need is there for abusing us just because she feels herself no taller than we are? What does she expect to get from her sharp tongue? What does she know, any way?"

Mrs. Lee certainly knew very little. She had read voraciously and promiscuously one subject after another. Ruskin and Taine had danced merrily through her mind, hand in hand with Darwin and Stuart Mill, Gustave Droz and Algernon Swinburne. She had even laboured over the literature of her own country. She was perhaps, the only woman in New York who knew something of American history. Certainly she could not have repeated the list of Presidents in their order, but she knew that the Constitution divided the goverument into Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary; she was aware that the President, the Speaker, and the Chief Justice were important personages, and instinctively she wondered whether they might not solve her problem; whether they were the shade trees which she saw in her dreams.

Here, then, was the explanation of her restlessness, discontent, ambition,--call it what you will. It was the feeling of a passenger on an ocean steamer whose mind will not give him rest until he has been in the engine-room and talked with the engineer. She wanted to see with her own eyes the action of primary forces; to touch with her own hand the massive machinery of society; to measure with her own mind the capacity of the motive power. She was bent upon getting to the heart of the great American mystery of democracy and government. She cared little where her pursuit might lead her, for she put no extravagant value upon life, having already, as she said, exhausted at least two lives, and being fairly hardened to insensibility in the process. "To lose a husband and a baby," said she, "and keep one's courage and reason, one must become very hard or very soft. I am now pure steel. You may beat my heart with a trip-hammer and it will beat the trip-hammer back again."

Perhaps after exhausting the political world she might try again elsewhere; she did not pretend to say where she might then go, or what she should do; but at present she meant to see what amusement there might be in politics.

Her friends asked what kind of amusement she expected to find among the illiterate swarm of ordinary people who in Washington represented constituencies so dreary that in comparison New York was a New Jerusalem, and Broad Street a grove of Academe. She replied that if Washington society were so bad as this, she should have gained all she wanted, for it would be a pleasure to return,--precisely the feeling she longed for. In her own mind, however, she frowned on the idea of seeking for men. What she wished to see, she thought, was the clash of interests, the interests of forty millions of people and a whole continent, centering at Washington; guided, restrained, controlled, or unrestrained and uncontrollable, by men of ordinary mould; the tremendous forces of government, and the machinery of society, at work. What she wanted, was power.

Perhaps the force of the engine was a little confused in her mind with that of the engineer, the power with the men who wielded it. Perhaps the human interest of politics was after all what really attracted her, and, however strongly she might deny it, the passion for exercising power, for its own sake, might dazzle and mislead a woman who had exhausted all the ordinary feminine resources. But why speculate about her motives? The stage was before her, the curtain was rising, the actors were ready to enter; she had only to go quietly on among the supernumeraries and see how the play was acted and the stage effects were produced; how the great tragedians mouthed, and the stage-manager swore.

[ بیست و نهم اسفند 1386 ] [ 3:34 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Mire

 

I
GRACEFULLY swaying in the saddle, a young man wearing the snow-white tunic of an officer rode into the great yard of the vodka distillery belonging to the heirs of M. E. Rothstein. The sun smiled carelessly on the lieutenant's little stars, on the white trunks of the birch-trees, on the heaps of broken glass scattered here and there in the yard. The radiant, vigorous beauty of a summer day lay over everything, and nothing hindered the snappy young green leaves from dancing gaily and winking at the clear blue sky. Even the dirty and soot-begrimed appearance of the bricksheds and the stifling fumes of the distillery did not spoil the general good impression. The lieutenant sprang gaily out of the saddle, handed over his horse to a man who ran up, and stroking with his finger his delicate black moustaches, went in at the front door. On the top step of the old but light and softly carpeted staircase he was met by a maidservant with a haughty, not very youthful face. The lieutenant gave her his card without speaking.

As she went through the rooms with the card, the maid could see on it the name "Alexandr Grigoryevitch Sokolsky." A minute later she came back and told the lieutenant that her mistress could not see him, as she was not feeling quite well. Sokolsky looked at the ceiling and thrust out his lower lip.

"How vexatious!" he said. "Listen, my dear," he said eagerly. "Go and tell Susanna Moiseyevna, that it is very necessary for me to speak to her -- very. I will only keep her one minute. Ask her to excuse me."

The maid shrugged one shoulder and went off languidly to her mistress.

"Very well!" she sighed, returning after a brief interval. "Please walk in!"

The lieutenant went with her through five or six large, luxuriously furnished rooms and a corridor, and finally found himself in a large and lofty square room, in which from the first step he was impressed by the abundance of flowers and plants and the sweet, almost revoltingly heavy fragrance of jasmine. Flowers were trained to trellis-work along the walls, screening the windows, hung from the ceiling, and were wreathed over the corners, so that the room was more like a greenhouse than a place to live in. Tits, canaries, and goldfinches chirruped among the green leaves and fluttered against the window-panes.

"Forgive me for receiving you here," the lieutenant heard in a mellow feminine voice with a burr on the letter r which was not without charm. "Yesterday I had a sick headache, and I'm trying to keep still to prevent its coming on again. What do you want?"

Exactly opposite the entrance, he saw sitting in a big low chair, such as old men use, a woman in an expensive Chinese dressing-gown, with her head wrapped up, leaning back on a pillow. Nothing could be seen behind the woollen shawl in which she was muffled but a pale, long, pointed, somewhat aquiline nose, and one large dark eye. Her ample dressing-gown concealed her figure, but judging from her beautiful hand, from her voice, her nose, and her eye, she might be twenty-six or twenty-eight.

"Forgive me for being so persistent . . ." began the lieutenant, clinking his spurs. "Allow me to introduce myself: Sokolsky! I come with a message from my cousin, your neighbour, Alexey Ivanovitch Kryukov, who . . ."

"I know!" interposed Susanna Moiseyevna. "I know Kryukov. Sit down; I don't like anything big standing before me."

"My cousin charges me to ask you a favour," the lieutenant went on, clinking his spurs once more and sitting down. "The fact is, your late father made a purchase of oats from my cousin last winter, and a small sum was left owing. The payment only becomes due next week, but my cousin begs you most particularly to pay him -- if possible, to-day."

As the lieutenant talked, he stole side-glances about him.

"Surely I'm not in her bedroom?" he thought.

In one corner of the room, where the foliage was thickest and tallest, under a pink awning like a funeral canopy, stood a bed not yet made, with the bedclothes still in disorder. Close by on two arm-chairs lay heaps of crumpled feminine garments. Petticoats and sleeves with rumpled lace and flounces were trailing on the carpet, on which here and there lay bits of white tape, cigarette-ends, and the papers of caramels. . . . Under the bed the toes, pointed and square, of slippers of all kinds peeped out in a long row. And it seemed to the lieutenant that the scent of the jasmine came not from the flowers, but from the bed and the slippers.

"And what is the sum owing?" asked Susanna Moiseyevna.

"Two thousand three hundred."

"Oho!" said the Jewess, showing another large black eye. "And you call that -- a small sum! However, it's just the same paying it to-day or paying it in a week, but I've had so many payments to make in the last two months since my father's death. . . . Such a lot of stupid business, it makes my head go round! A nice idea! I want to go abroad, and they keep forcing me to attend to these silly things. Vodka, oats . . ." she muttered, half closing her eyes, "oats, bills, percentages, or, as my head-clerk says, 'percentage.' . . . It's awful. Yesterday I simply turned the excise officer out. He pesters me with his Tralles. I said to him: 'Go to the devil with your Tralles! I can't see any one!' He kissed my hand and went away. I tell you what: can't your cousin wait two or three months?"

"A cruel question!" laughed the lieutenant. "My cousin can wait a year, but it's I who cannot wait! You see, it's on my own account I'm acting, I ought to tell you. At all costs I must have money, and by ill-luck my cousin hasn't a rouble to spare. I'm forced to ride about and collect debts. I've just been to see a peasant, our tenant; here I'm now calling on you; from here I shall go on to somewhere else, and keep on like that until I get together five thousand roubles. I need money awfully!"

"Nonsense! What does a young man want with money? Whims, mischief. Why, have you been going in for dissipation? Or losing at cards? Or are you getting married?"

"You've guessed!" laughed the lieutenant, and rising slightly from his seat, he clinked his spurs. "I really am going to be married."

Susanna Moiseyevna looked intently at her visitor, made a wry face, and sighed.

"I can't make out what possesses people to get married!" she said, looking about her for her pocket-handkerchief. "Life is so short, one has so little freedom, and they must put chains on themselves!"

"Every one has his own way of looking at things. . . ."

"Yes, yes, of course; every one has his own way of looking at things. . . . But, I say, are you really going to marry some one poor? Are you passionately in love? And why must you have five thousand? Why won't four do, or three?"

"What a tongue she has!" thought the lieutenant, and answered: "The difficulty is that an officer is not allowed by law to marry till he is twenty-eight; if you choose to marry, you have to leave the Service or else pay a deposit of five thousand."

"Ah, now I understand. Listen. You said just now that every one has his own way of looking at things. . . . Perhaps your fiancée is some one special and remarkable, but . . . but I am utterly unable to understand how any decent man can live with a woman. I can't for the life of me understand it. I have lived, thank the Lord, twenty-seven years, and I have never yet seen an endurable woman. They're all affected minxes, immoral, liars. . . . The only ones I can put up with are cooks and housemaids, but so-called ladies I won't let come within shooting distance of me. But, thank God, they hate me and don't force themselves on me! If one of them wants money she sends her husband, but nothing will induce her to come herself, not from pride -- no, but from cowardice; she's afraid of my making a scene. Oh, I understand their hatred very well! Rather! I openly display what they do their very utmost to conceal from God and man. How can they help hating me? No doubt you've heard bushels of scandal about me already. . . ."

"I only arrived here so lately . . ."

"Tut, tut, tut! . . . I see from your eyes! But your brother's wife, surely she primed you for this expedition? Think of letting a young man come to see such an awful woman without warning him -- how could she? Ha, ha! . . . But tell me, how is your brother? He's a fine fellow, such a handsome man! . . . I've seen him several times at mass. Why do you look at me like that? I very often go to church! We all have the same God. To an educated person externals matter less than the idea. . . . That's so, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course . . ." smiled the lieutenant.

"Yes, the idea. . . . But you are not a bit like your brother. You are handsome, too, but your brother is a great deal better-looking. There's wonderfully little likeness!"

"That's quite natural; he's not my brother, but my cousin."

"Ah, to be sure! So you must have the money to-day? Why to-day?"

"My furlough is over in a few days."

"Well, what's to be done with you!" sighed Susanna Moiseyevna. "So be it. I'll give you the money, though I know you'll abuse me for it afterwards. You'll quarrel with your wife after you are married, and say: 'If that mangy Jewess hadn't given me the money, I should perhaps have been as free as a bird to-day!" Is your fiancée pretty?"

"Oh yes. . . ."

"H'm! . . . Anyway, better something, if it's only beauty, than nothing. Though however beautiful a woman is, it can never make up to her husband for her silliness."

"That's original!" laughed the lieutenant. "You are a woman yourself, and such a woman-hater!"

"A woman . . ." smiled Susanna. "It's not my fault that God has cast me into this mould, is it? I'm no more to blame for it than you are for having moustaches. The violin is not responsible for the choice of its case. I am very fond of myself, but when any one reminds me that I am a woman, I begin to hate myself. Well, you can go away, and I'll dress. Wait for me in the drawing-room."

The lieutenant went out, and the first thing he did was to draw a deep breath, to get rid of the heavy scent of jasmine, which had begun to irritate his throat and to make him feel giddy.

"What a strange woman!" he thought, looking about him. "She talks fluently, but . . . far too much, and too freely. She must be neurotic."

The drawing-room, in which he was standing now, was richly furnished, and had pretensions to luxury and style. There were dark bronze dishes with patterns in relief, views of Nice and the Rhine on the tables, old-fashioned sconces, Japanese statuettes, but all this striving after luxury and style only emphasised the lack of taste which was glaringly apparent in the gilt cornices, the gaudy wall-paper, the bright velvet table-cloths, the common oleographs in heavy frames. The bad taste of the general effect was the more complete from the lack of finish and the overcrowding of the room, which gave one a feeling that something was lacking, and that a great deal should have been thrown away. It was evident that the furniture had not been bought all at once, but had been picked up at auctions and other favourable opportunities.

Heaven knows what taste the lieutenant could boast of, but even he noticed one characteristic peculiarity about the whole place, which no luxury or style could efface -- a complete absence of all trace of womanly, careful hands, which, as we all know, give a warmth, poetry, and snugness to the furnishing of a room. There was a chilliness about it such as one finds in waiting-rooms at stations, in clubs, and foyers at the theatres.

There was scarcely anything in the room definitely Jewish, except, perhaps, a big picture of the meeting of Jacob and Esau. The lieutenant looked round about him, and, shrugging his shoulders, thought of his strange, new acquaintance, of her free-and-easy manners, and her way of talking. But then the door opened, and in the doorway appeared the lady herself, in a long black dress, so slim and tightly laced that her figure looked as though it had been turned in a lathe. Now the lieutenant saw not only the nose and eyes, but also a thin white face, a head black and as curly as lamb's-wool. She did not attract him, though she did not strike him as ugly. He had a prejudice against un-Russian faces in general, and he considered, too, that the lady's white face, the whiteness of which for some reason suggested the cloying scent of jasmine, did not go well with her little black curls and thick eyebrows; that her nose and ears were astoundingly white, as though they belonged to a corpse, or had been moulded out of transparent wax. When she smiled she showed pale gums as well as her teeth, and he did not like that either.

"Anæmic debility . . ." he thought; "she's probably as nervous as a turkey."

"Here I am! Come along!" she said, going on rapidly ahead of him and pulling off the yellow leaves from the plants as she passed.

"I'll give you the money directly, and if you like I'll give you some lunch. Two thousand three hundred roubles! After such a good stroke of business you'll have an appetite for your lunch. Do you like my rooms? The ladies about here declare that my rooms always smell of garlic. With that culinary gibe their stock of wit is exhausted. I hasten to assure you that I've no garlic even in the cellar. And one day when a doctor came to see me who smelt of garlic, I asked him to take his hat and go and spread his fragrance elsewhere. There is no smell of garlic here, but the place does smell of drugs. My father lay paralyzed for a year and a half, and the whole house smelt of medicine. A year and a half! I was sorry to lose him, but I'm glad he's dead: he suffered so!"

She led the officer through two rooms similar to the drawing-room, through a large reception hall, and came to a stop in her study, where there was a lady's writing-table covered with little knick-knacks. On the carpet near it several books lay strewn about, opened and folded back. Through a small door leading from the study he saw a table laid for lunch.

Still chatting, Susanna took out of her pocket a bunch of little keys and unlocked an ingeniously made cupboard with a curved, sloping lid. When the lid was raised the cupboard emitted a plaintive note which made the lieutenant think of an Æolian harp. Susanna picked out another key and clicked another lock.

"I have underground passages here and secret doors," she said, taking out a small morocco portfolio. "It's a funny cupboard, isn't it? And in this portfolio I have a quarter of my fortune. Look how podgy it is! You won't strangle me, will you?"

Susanna raised her eyes to the lieutenant and laughed good-naturedly. The lieutenant laughed too.

"She's rather jolly," he thought, watching the keys flashing between her fingers.

"Here it is," she said, picking out the key of the portfolio. "Now, Mr. Creditor, trot out the IOU. What a silly thing money is really! How paltry it is, and yet how women love it! I am a Jewess, you know, to the marrow of my bones. I am passionately fond of Shmuls and Yankels, but how I loathe that passion for gain in our Semitic blood. They hoard and they don't know what they are hoarding for. One ought to live and enjoy oneself, but they're afraid of spending an extra farthing. In that way I am more like an hussar than a Shmul. I don't like money to be kept long in one place. And altogether I fancy I'm not much like a Jewess. Does my accent give me away much, eh?"

"What shall I say?" mumbled the lieutenant. "You speak good Russian, but you do roll your r's."

Susanna laughed and put the little key in the lock of the portfolio. The lieutenant took out of his pocket a little roll of IOUs and laid them with a notebook on the table.

"Nothing betrays a Jew as much as his accent," Susanna went on, looking gaily at the lieutenant. "However much he twists himself into a Russian or a Frenchman, ask him to say 'feather' and he will say 'fedder' . . . but I pronounce it correctly: 'Feather! feather! feather!' "

Both laughed.

"By Jove, she's very jolly!" thought Sokolsky.

Susanna put the portfolio on a chair, took a step towards the lieutenant, and bringing her face close to his, went on gaily:

"Next to the Jews I love no people so much as the Russian and the French. I did not do much at school and I know no history, but it seems to me that the fate of the world lies in the hands of those two nations. I lived a long time abroad. . . . I spent six months in Madrid. . . . I've gazed my fill at the public, and the conclusion I've come to is that there are no decent peoples except the Russian and the French. Take the languages, for instance. . . . The German language is like the neighing of horses; as for the English . . . you can't imagine anything stupider. Fight -- feet -- foot! Italian is only pleasant when they speak it slowly. If you listen to Italians gabbling, you get the effect of the Jewish jargon. And the Poles? Mercy on us! There's no language so disgusting! 'Nie pieprz, Pietrze, pieprzem wieprza bo mozeoz przepieprzyé wieprza pieprzem.' That means: 'Don't pepper a sucking pig with pepper, Pyotr, or perhaps you'll over-pepper the sucking pig with pepper.' Ha, ha, ha!"

Susanna Moiseyevna rolled her eyes and broke into such a pleasant, infectious laugh that the lieutenant, looking at her, went off into a loud and merry peal of laughter. She took the visitor by the button, and went on:

"You don't like Jews, of course . . . they've many faults, like all nations. I don't dispute that. But are the Jews to blame for it? No, it's not the Jews who are to blame, but the Jewish women! They are narrow-minded, greedy; there's no sort of poetry about them, they're dull. . . . You have never lived with a Jewess, so you don't know how charming it is!" Susanna Moiseyevna pronounced the last words with deliberate emphasis and with no eagerness or laughter. She paused as though frightened at her own openness, and her face was suddenly distorted in a strange, unaccountable way. Her eyes stared at the lieutenant without blinking, her lips parted and showed clenched teeth. Her whole face, her throat, and even her bosom, seemed quivering with a spiteful, catlike expression. Still keeping her eyes fixed on her visitor, she rapidly bent to one side, and swiftly, like a cat, snatched something from the table. All this was the work of a few seconds. Watching her movements, the lieutenant saw five fingers crumple up his IOUs and caught a glimpse of the white rustling paper as it disappeared in her clenched fist. Such an extraordinary transition from good-natured laughter to crime so appalled him that he turned pale and stepped back. . . .

And she, still keeping her frightened, searching eyes upon him, felt along her hip with her clenched fist for her pocket. Her fist struggled convulsively for the pocket, like a fish in the net, and could not find the opening. In another moment the IOUs would have vanished in the recesses of her feminine garments, but at that point the lieutenant uttered a faint cry, and, moved more by instinct than reflection, seized the Jewess by her arm above the clenched fist. Showing her teeth more than ever, she struggled with all her might and pulled her hand away. Then Sokolsky put his right arm firmly round her waist, and the other round her chest and a struggle followed. Afraid of outraging her sex or hurting her, he tried only to prevent her moving, and to get hold of the fist with the IOUs; but she wriggled like an eel in his arms with her supple, flexible body, struck him in the chest with her elbows, and scratched him, so that he could not help touching her all over, and was forced to hurt her and disregard her modesty.

"How unusual this is! How strange!" he thought, utterly amazed, hardly able to believe his senses, and feeling rather sick from the scent of jasmine.

In silence, breathing heavily, stumbling against the furniture, they moved about the room. Susanna was carried away by the struggle. She flushed, closed her eyes, and forgetting herself, once even pressed her face against the face of the lieutenant, so that there was a sweetish taste left on his lips. At last he caught hold of her clenched hand. . . . Forcing it open, and not finding the papers in it, he let go the Jewess. With flushed faces and dishevelled hair, they looked at one another, breathing hard. The spiteful, catlike expression on the Jewess's face was gradually replaced by a good-natured smile. She burst out laughing, and turning on one foot, went towards the room where lunch was ready. The lieutenant moved slowly after her. She sat down to the table, and, still flushed and breathing hard, tossed off half a glass of port.

"Listen" -- the lieutenant broke the silence -- "I hope you are joking?"

"Not a bit of it," she answered, thrusting a piece of bread into her mouth.

"H'm! . . . How do you wish me to take all this?"

"As you choose. Sit down and have lunch!"

"But . . . it's dishonest!"

"Perhaps. But don't trouble to give me a sermon; I have my own way of looking at things."

"Won't you give them back?"

"Of course not! If you were a poor unfortunate man, with nothing to eat, then it would be a different matter. But -- he wants to get married!"

"It's not my money, you know; it's my cousin's!"

"And what does your cousin want with money? To get fashionable clothes for his wife? But I really don't care whether your belle-sœur has dresses or not."

The lieutenant had ceased to remember that he was in a strange house with an unknown lady, and did not trouble himself with decorum. He strode up and down the room, scowled and nervously fingered his waistcoat. The fact that the Jewess had lowered herself in his eyes by her dishonest action, made him feel bolder and more free-and-easy.

"The devil knows what to make of it!" he muttered. "Listen. I shan't go away from here until I get the IOUs!"

"Ah, so much the better," laughed Susanna. "If you stay here for good, it will make it livelier for me."

Excited by the struggle, the lieutenant looked at Susanna's laughing, insolent face, at her munching mouth, at her heaving bosom, and grew bolder and more audacious. Instead of thinking about the IOU he began for some reason recalling with a sort of relish his cousin's stories of the Jewess's romantic adventures, of her free way of life, and these reminiscences only provoked him to greater audacity. Impulsively he sat down beside the Jewess and thinking no more of the IOUs began to eat. . . .

"Will you have vodka or wine?" Susanna asked with a laugh. "So you will stay till you get the IOUs? Poor fellow! How many days and nights you will have to spend with me, waiting for those IOUs! Won't your fiancée have something to say about it?"


II
Five hours had passed. The lieutenant's cousin, Alexey Ivanovitch Kryukov was walking about the rooms of his country-house in his dressing-gown and slippers, and looking impatiently out of window. He was a tall, sturdy man, with a large black beard and a manly face; and as the Jewess had truly said, he was handsome, though he had reached the age when men are apt to grow too stout, puffy, and bald. By mind and temperament he was one of those natures in which the Russian intellectual classes are so rich: warm-hearted, good-natured, well-bred, having some knowledge of the arts and sciences, some faith, and the most chivalrous notions about honour, but indolent and lacking in depth. He was fond of good eating and drinking, was an ideal whist-player, was a connoisseur in women and horses, but in other things he was apathetic and sluggish as a seal, and to rouse him from his lethargy something extraordinary and quite revolting was needed, and then he would forget everything in the world and display intense activity; he would fume and talk of a duel, write a petition of seven pages to a Minister, gallop at breakneck speed about the district, call some one publicly "a scoundrel," would go to law, and so on.

"How is it our Sasha's not back yet?" he kept asking his wife, glancing out of window. "Why, it's dinner-time!"

After waiting for the lieutenant till six o'clock, they sat down to dinner. When supper-time came, however, Alexey Ivanovitch was listening to every footstep, to every sound of the door, and kept shrugging his shoulders.

"Strange!" he said. "The rascally dandy must have stayed on at the tenant's."

As he went to bed after supper, Kryukov made up his mind that the lieutenant was being entertained at the tenant's, where after a festive evening he was staying the night.

Alexandr Grigoryevitch only returned next morning. He looked extremely crumpled and confused.

"I want to speak to you alone . . ." he said mysteriously to his cousin.

They went into the study. The lieutenant shut the door, and he paced for a long time up and down before he began to speak.

"Something's happened, my dear fellow," he began, "that I don't know how to tell you about. You wouldn't believe it . . ."

And blushing, faltering, not looking at his cousin, he told what had happened with the IOUs. Kryukov, standing with his feet wide apart and his head bent, listened and frowned.

"Are you joking?" he asked.

"How the devil could I be joking? It's no joking matter!"

"I don't understand!" muttered Kryukov, turning crimson and flinging up his hands. "It's positively . . . immoral on your part. Before your very eyes a hussy is up to the devil knows what, a serious crime, plays a nasty trick, and you go and kiss her!"

"But I can't understand myself how it happened!" whispered the lieutenant, blinking guiltily. "Upon my honour, I don't understand it! It's the first time in my life I've come across such a monster! It's not her beauty that does for you, not her mind, but that . . . you understand . . . insolence, cynicism. . . ."

"Insolence, cynicism . . . it's unclean! If you've such a longing for insolence and cynicism, you might have picked a sow out of the mire and have devoured her alive. It would have been cheaper, anyway! Instead of two thousand three hundred!"

"You do express yourself elegantly!" said the lieutenant, frowning. "I'll pay you back the two thousand three hundred!"

"I know you'll pay it back, but it's not a question of money! Damn the money! What revolts me is your being such a limp rag . . . such filthy feebleness! And engaged! With a fiancée!"

"Don't speak of it . . ." said the lieutenant, blushing. "I loathe myself as it is. I should like to sink into the earth. It's sickening and vexatious that I shall have to bother my aunt for that five thousand. . . ."

Kryukov continued for some time longer expressing his indignation and grumbling, then, as he grew calmer, he sat down on the sofa and began to jeer at his cousin.

"You young officers!" he said with contemptuous irony. "Nice bridegrooms."

Suddenly he leapt up as though he had been stung, stamped his foot, and ran about the study.

"No, I'm not going to leave it like that!" he said, shaking his fist. "I will have those IOUs, I will! I'll give it her! One doesn't beat women, but I'll break every bone in her body. . . . I'll pound her to a jelly! I'm not a lieutenant! You won't touch me with insolence or cynicism! No-o-o, damn her! Mishka!" he shouted, "run and tell them to get the racing droshky out for me!"

Kryukov dressed rapidly, and, without heeding the agitated lieutenant, got into the droshky, and with a wave of his hand resolutely raced off to Susanna Moiseyevna. For a long time the lieutenant gazed out of window at the clouds of dust that rolled after his cousin's droshky, stretched, yawned, and went to his own room. A quarter of an hour later he was sound asleep.

At six o'clock he was waked up and summoned to dinner.

"How nice this is of Alexey!" his cousin's wife greeted him in the dining-room. "He keeps us waiting for dinner."

"Do you mean to say he's not come back yet?" yawned the lieutenant. "H'm! . . . he's probably gone round to see the tenant."

But Alexey Ivanovitch was not back by supper either. His wife and Sokolsky decided that he was playing cards at the tenant's and would most likely stay the night there. What had happened was not what they had supposed, however.

Kryukov returned next morning, and without greeting any one, without a word, dashed into his study.

"Well?" whispered the lieutenant, gazing at him round-eyed.

Kryukov waved his hand and gave a snort.

"Why, what's the matter? What are you laughing at?"

Kryukov flopped on the sofa, thrust his head in the pillow, and shook with suppressed laughter. A minute later he got up, and looking at the surprised lieutenant, with his eyes full of tears from laughing, said:

"Close the door. Well . . . she is a fe-e-male, I beg to inform you!"

"Did you get the IOUs?"

Kryukov waved his hand and went off into a peal of laughter again.

"Well! she is a female!" he went on. "Merci for the acquaintance, my boy! She's a devil in petticoats. I arrived; I walked in like such an avenging Jove, you know, that I felt almost afraid of myself. . . . I frowned, I scowled, even clenched my fists to be more awe-inspiring. . . . 'Jokes don't pay with me, madam!' said I, and more in that style. And I threatened her with the law and with the Governor. To begin with she burst into tears, said she'd been joking with you, and even took me to the cupboard to give me the money. Then she began arguing that the future of Europe lies in the hands of the French, and the Russians, swore at women. . . . Like you, I listened, fascinated, ass that I was. . . . She kept singing the praises of my beauty, patted me on the arm near the shoulder, to see how strong I was, and . . . and as you see, I've only just got away from her! Ha, ha! She's enthusiastic about you!"

"You're a nice fellow!" laughed the lieutenant. "A married man! highly respected. . . . Well, aren't you ashamed? Disgusted? Joking apart though, old man, you've got your Queen Tamara in your own neighbourhood. . . ."

"In my own neighbourhood! Why, you wouldn't find another such chameleon in the whole of Russia! I've never seen anything like it in my life, though I know a good bit about women, too. I have known regular devils in my time, but I never met anything like this. It is, as you say, by insolence and cynicism she gets over you. What is so attractive in her is the diabolical suddenness, the quick transitions, the swift shifting hues. . . . Brrr! And the IOU -- phew! Write it off for lost. We are both great sinners, we'll go halves in our sin. I shall put down to you not two thousand three hundred, but half of it. Mind, tell my wife I was at the tenant's."

Kryukov and the lieutenant buried their heads in the pillows, and broke into laughter; they raised their heads, glanced at one another, and again subsided into their pillows.

"Engaged! A lieutenant!" Kryukov jeered.

"Married!" retorted Sokolsky. "Highly respected! Father of a family!"

At dinner they talked in veiled allusions, winked at one another, and, to the surprise of the others, were continually gushing with laughter into their dinner-napkins. After dinner, still in the best of spirits, they dressed up as Turks, and, running after one another with guns, played at soldiers with the children. In the evening they had a long argument. The lieutenant maintained that it was mean and contemptible to accept a dowry with your wife, even when there was passionate love on both sides. Kryukov thumped the table with his fists and declared that this was absurd, and that a husband who did not like his wife to have property of her own was an egoist and a despot. Both shouted, boiled over, did not understand each other, drank a good deal, and in the end, picking up the skirts of their dressing-gowns, went to their bedrooms. They soon fell asleep and slept soundly.

Life went on as before, even, sluggish and free from sorrow. The shadows lay on the earth, thunder pealed from the clouds, from time to time the wind moaned plaintively, as though to prove that nature, too, could lament, but nothing troubled the habitual tranquillity of these people. Of Susanna Moiseyevna and the IOUs they said nothing. Both of them felt, somehow, ashamed to speak of the incident aloud. Yet they remembered it and thought of it with pleasure, as of a curious farce, which life had unexpectedly and casually played upon them, and which it would be pleasant to recall in old age.

On the sixth or seventh day after his visit to the Jewess, Kryukov was sitting in his study in the morning writing a congratulatory letter to his aunt. Alexandr Grigoryevitch was walking to and fro near the table in silence. The lieutenant had slept badly that night; he woke up depressed, and now he felt bored. He paced up and down, thinking of the end of his furlough, of his fiancée, who was expecting him, of how people could live all their lives in the country without feeling bored. Standing at the window, for a long time he stared at the trees, smoked three cigarettes one after another, and suddenly turned to his cousin.

"I have a favour to ask you, Alyosha," he said. "Let me have a saddle-horse for the day. . . ."

Kryukov looked searchingly at him and continued his writing with a frown.

"You will, then?" asked the lieutenant.

Kryukov looked at him again, then deliberately drew out a drawer in the table, and taking out a thick roll of notes, gave it to his cousin.

"Here's five thousand . . ." he said. "Though it's not my money, yet, God bless you, it's all the same. I advise you to send for post-horses at once and go away. Yes, really!"

The lieutenant in his turn looked searchingly at Kryukov and laughed.

"You've guessed right, Alyosha," he said, reddening. "It was to her I meant to ride. Yesterday evening when the washerwoman gave me that damned tunic, the one I was wearing then, and it smelt of jasmine, why . . . I felt I must go!"

"You must go away."

"Yes, certainly. And my furlough's just over. I really will go to-day! Yes, by Jove! However long one stays, one has to go in the end. . . . I'm going!"

The post-horses were brought after dinner the same day; the lieutenant said good-bye to the Kryukovs and set off, followed by their good wishes.

Another week passed. It was a dull but hot and heavy day. From early morning Kryukov walked aimlessly about the house, looking out of window, or turning over the leaves of albums, though he was sick of the sight of them already. When he came across his wife or children, he began grumbling crossly. It seemed to him, for some reason that day, that his children's manners were revolting, that his wife did not know how to look after the servants, that their expenditure was quite disproportionate to their income. All this meant that "the master" was out of humour.

After dinner, Kryukov, feeling dissatisfied with the soup and the roast meat he had eaten, ordered out his racing droshky. He drove slowly out of the courtyard, drove at a walking pace for a quarter of a mile, and stopped.

"Shall I . . . drive to her . . . that devil?" he thought, looking at the leaden sky.

And Kryukov positively laughed, as though it were the first time that day he had asked himself that question. At once the load of boredom was lifted from his heart, and there rose a gleam of pleasure in his lazy eyes. He lashed the horse. . . .

All the way his imagination was picturing how surprised the Jewess would be to see him, how he would laugh and chat, and come home feeling refreshed. . . .

"Once a month one needs something to brighten one up . . . something out of the common round," he thought, "something that would give the stagnant organism a good shaking up, a reaction . . . whether it's a drinking bout, or . . . Susanna. One can't get on without it."

It was getting dark when he drove into the yard of the vodka distillery. From the open windows of the owner's house came sounds of laughter and singing:

" 'Brighter than lightning, more burning than flame. . . .' "

sang a powerful, mellow, bass voice.

"Aha! she has visitors," thought Kryukov.

And he was annoyed that she had visitors.

"Shall I go back?" he thought with his hand on the bell, but he rang all the same, and went up the familiar staircase. From the entry he glanced into the reception hall. There were about five men there -- all landowners and officials of his acquaintance; one, a tall, thin gentleman, was sitting at the piano, singing, and striking the keys with his long, thin fingers. The others were listening and grinning with enjoyment. Kryukov looked himself up and down in the looking-glass, and was about to go into the hall, when Susanna Moiseyevna herself darted into the entry, in high spirits and wearing the same black dress. . . . Seeing Kryukov, she was petrified for an instant, then she uttered a little scream and beamed with delight.

"Is it you?" she said, clutching his hand. "What a surprise!"

"Here she is!" smiled Kryukov, putting his arm round her waist. "Well! Does the destiny of Europe still lie in the hands of the French and the Russians?"

"I'm so glad," laughed the Jewess, cautiously removing his arm. "Come, go into the hall; they're all friends there. . . . I'll go and tell them to bring you some tea. Your name's Alexey, isn't it? Well, go in, I'll come directly. . . ."

She blew him a kiss and ran out of the entry, leaving behind her the same sickly smell of jasmine. Kryukov raised his head and walked into the hall. He was on terms of friendly intimacy with all the men in the room, but scarcely nodded to them; they, too, scarcely responded, as though the places in which they met were not quite decent, and as though they were in tacit agreement with one another that it was more suitable for them not to recognise one another.

From the hall Kryukov walked into the drawing-room, and from it into a second drawing-room. On the way he met three or four other guests, also men whom he knew, though they barely recognised him. Their faces were flushed with drink and merriment. Alexey Ivanovitch glanced furtively at them and marvelled that these men, respectable heads of families, who had known sorrow and privation, could demean themselves to such pitiful, cheap gaiety! He shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and walked on.

"There are places," he reflected, "where a sober man feels sick, and a drunken man rejoices. I remember I never could go to the operetta or the gipsies when I was sober: wine makes a man more good-natured and reconciles him with vice. . . ."

Suddenly he stood still, petrified, and caught hold of the door-post with both hands. At the writing-table in Susanna's study was sitting Lieutenant Alexandr Grigoryevitch. He was discussing something in an undertone with a fat, flabby-looking Jew, and seeing his cousin, flushed crimson and looked down at an album.

The sense of decency was stirred in Kryukov and the blood rushed to his head. Overwhelmed with amazement, shame, and anger, he walked up to the table without a word. Sokolsky's head sank lower than ever. His face worked with an expression of agonising shame.

"Ah, it's you, Alyosha!" he articulated, making a desperate effort to raise his eyes and to smile. "I called here to say good-bye, and, as you see. . . . But to-morrow I am certainly going."

"What can I say to him? What?" thought Alexey Ivanovitch. "How can I judge him since I'm here myself?"

And clearing his throat without uttering a word, he went out slowly.

" 'Call her not heavenly, and leave her on earth. . . .' "

The bass was singing in the hall. A little while after, Kryukov's racing droshky was bumping along the dusty road.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 18:11 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Dreams

 

 

Two peasant constables -- one a stubby, black-bearded individual with such exceptionally short legs that if you looked at him from behind it seemed as though his legs began much lower down than in other people; the other, long, thin, and straight as a stick, with a scanty beard of dark reddish colour -- were escorting to the district town a tramp who refused to remember his name. The first waddled along, looking from side to side, chewing now a straw, now his own sleeve, slapping himself on the haunches and humming, and altogether had a careless and frivolous air; the other, in spite of his lean face and narrow shoulders, looked solid, grave, and substantial; in the lines and expression of his whole figure he was like the priests among the Old Believers, or the warriors who are painted on old-fashioned ikons. "For his wisdom God had added to his forehead" -- that is, he was bald -- which increased the resemblance referred to. The first was called Andrey Ptaha, the second Nikandr Sapozhnikov.

The man they were escorting did not in the least correspond with the conception everyone has of a tramp. He was a frail little man, weak and sickly-looking, with small, colourless, and extremely indefinite features. His eyebrows were scanty, his expression mild and submissive; he had scarcely a trace of a moustache, though he was over thirty. He walked along timidly, bent forward, with his hands thrust into his sleeves. The collar of his shabby cloth overcoat, which did not look like a peasant's, was turned up to the very brim of his cap, so that only his little red nose ventured to peep out into the light of day. He spoke in an ingratiating tenor, continually coughing. It was very, very difficult to believe that he was a tramp concealing his surname. He was more like an unsuccessful priest's son, stricken by God and reduced to beggary; a clerk discharged for drunkenness; a merchant's son or nephew who had tried his feeble powers in a theatrical career, and was now going home to play the last act in the parable of the prodigal son; perhaps, judging by the dull patience with which he struggled with the hopeless autumn mud, he might have been a fanatical monk, wandering from one Russian monastery to another, continually seeking "a peaceful life, free from sin," and not finding it. . . .

The travellers had been a long while on their way, but they seemed to be always on the same small patch of ground. In front of them there stretched thirty feet of muddy black-brown mud, behind them the same, and wherever one looked further, an impenetrable wall of white fog. They went on and on, but the ground remained the same, the wall was no nearer, and the patch on which they walked seemed still the same patch. They got a glimpse of a white, clumsy-looking stone, a small ravine, or a bundle of hay dropped by a passer-by, the brief glimmer of a great muddy puddle, or, suddenly, a shadow with vague outlines would come into view ahead of them; the nearer they got to it the smaller and darker it became; nearer still, and there stood up before the wayfarers a slanting milestone with the number rubbed off, or a wretched birch-tree drenched and bare like a wayside beggar. The birch-tree would whisper something with what remained of its yellow leaves, one leaf would break off and float lazily to the ground. . . . And then again fog, mud, the brown grass at the edges of the road. On the grass hung dingy, unfriendly tears. They were not the tears of soft joy such as the earth weeps at welcoming the summer sun and parting from it, and such as she gives to drink at dawn to the corncrakes, quails, and graceful, long-beaked crested snipes. The travellers' feet stuck in the heavy, clinging mud. Every step cost an effort.

Andrey Ptaha was somewhat excited. He kept looking round at the tramp and trying to understand how a live, sober man could fail to remember his name.

"You are an orthodox Christian, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes," the tramp answered mildly.

"H'm. . . then you've been christened?"

"Why, to be sure! I'm not a Turk. I go to church and to the sacrament, and do not eat meat when it is forbidden. And I observe my religious duties punctually. . . ."

"Well, what are you called, then?"

"Call me what you like, good man."

Ptaha shrugged his shoulders and slapped himself on the haunches in extreme perplexity. The other constable, Nikandr Sapozhnikov, maintained a staid silence. He was not so naïve as Ptaha, and apparently knew very well the reasons which might induce an orthodox Christian to conceal his name from other people. His expressive face was cold and stern. He walked apart and did not condescend to idle chatter with his companions, but, as it were, tried to show everyone, even the fog, his sedateness and discretion.

"God knows what to make of you," Ptaha persisted in addressing the tramp. "Peasant you are not, and gentleman you are not, but some sort of a thing between. . . . The other day I was washing a sieve in the pond and caught a reptile -- see, as long as a finger, with gills and a tail. The first minute I thought it was a fish, then I looked -- and, blow it! if it hadn't paws. It was not a fish, it was a viper, and the deuce only knows what it was. . . . So that's like you. . . . What's your calling?"

"I am a peasant and of peasant family," sighed the tramp. "My mamma was a house serf. I don't look like a peasant, that's true, for such has been my lot, good man. My mamma was a nurse with the gentry, and had every comfort, and as I was of her flesh and blood, I lived with her in the master's house. She petted and spoiled me, and did her best to take me out of my humble class and make a gentleman of me. I slept in a bed, every day I ate a real dinner, I wore breeches and shoes like a gentleman's child. What my mamma ate I was fed on, too; they gave her stuffs as a present, and she dressed me up in them. . . . We lived well! I ate so many sweets and cakes in my childish years that if they could be sold now it would be enough to buy a good horse. Mamma taught me to read and write, she instilled the fear of God in me from my earliest years, and she so trained me that now I can't bring myself to utter an unrefined peasant word. And I don't drink vodka, my lad, and am neat in my dress, and know how to behave with decorum in good society. If she is still living, God give her health; and if she is dead, then, O Lord, give her soul peace in Thy Kingdom, wherein the just are at rest."

The tramp bared his head with the scanty hair standing up like a brush on it, turned his eyes upward and crossed himself twice.

"Grant her, O Lord, a verdant and peaceful resting-place," he said in a drawling voice, more like an old woman's than a man's. "Teach Thy servant Xenia Thy justifications, O Lord! If it had not been for my beloved mamma I should have been a peasant with no sort of understanding! Now, young man, ask me about anything and I understand it all: the holy Scriptures and profane writings, and every prayer and catechism. I live according to the Scriptures. . . . I don't injure anyone, I keep my flesh in purity and continence, I observe the fasts, I eat at fitting times. Another man will take no pleasure in anything but vodka and lewd talk, but when I have time I sit in a corner and read a book. I read and I weep and weep."

"What do you weep for?"

"They write so pathetically! For some books one gives but a five-kopeck piece, and yet one weeps and sighs exceedingly over it."

"Is your father dead?" asked Ptaha.

"I don't know, good man. I don't know my parent; it is no use concealing it. I judge that I was mamma's illegitimate son. My mamma lived all her life with the gentry, and did not want to marry a simple peasant. . . ."

"And so she fell into the master's hands," laughed Ptaha.

"She did transgress, that's true. She was pious, God-fearing, but she did not keep her maiden purity. It is a sin, of course, a great sin, there's no doubt about it, but to make up for it there is, maybe, noble blood in me. Maybe I am only a peasant by class, but in nature a noble gentleman."

The "noble gentleman" uttered all this in a soft, sugary tenor, wrinkling up his narrow forehead and emitting creaking sounds from his red, frozen little nose. Ptaha listened and looked askance at him in wonder, continually shrugging his shoulders.

After going nearly five miles the constables and the tramp sat down on a mound to rest.

"Even a dog knows his name," Ptaha muttered. "My name is Andryushka, his is Nikandr; every man has his holy name, and it can't be forgotten. Nohow."

"Who has any need to know my name?" sighed the tramp, leaning his cheek on his fist. "And what advantage would it be to me if they did know it? If I were allowed to go where I would -- but it would only make things worse. I know the law, Christian brothers. Now I am a tramp who doesn't remember his name, and it's the very most if they send me to Eastern Siberia and give me thirty or forty lashes; but if I were to tell them my real name and description they would send me back to hard labour, I know!"

"Why, have you been a convict?"

"I have, dear friend. For four years I went about with my head shaved and fetters on my legs."

"What for?"

"For murder, my good man! When I was still a boy of eighteen or so, my mamma accidentally poured arsenic instead of soda and acid into my master's glass. There were boxes of all sorts in the storeroom, numbers of them; it was easy to make a mistake over them."

The tramp sighed, shook his head, and said:

"She was a pious woman, but, who knows? another man's soul is a slumbering forest! It may have been an accident, or maybe she could not endure the affront of seeing the master prefer another servant. . . . Perhaps she put it in on purpose, God knows! I was young then, and did not understand it all . . . now I remember that our master had taken another mistress and mamma was greatly disturbed. Our trial lasted nearly two years. . . . Mamma was condemned to penal servitude for twenty years, and I, on account of my youth, only to seven."

"And why were you sentenced?"

"As an accomplice. I handed the glass to the master. That was always the custom. Mamma prepared the soda and I handed it to him. Only I tell you all this as a Christian, brothers, as I would say it before God. Don't you tell anybody. . . ."

"Oh, nobody's going to ask us," said Ptaha. "So you've run away from prison, have you?"

"I have, dear friend. Fourteen of us ran away. Some folks, God bless them! ran away and took me with them. Now you tell me, on your conscience, good man, what reason have I to disclose my name? They will send me back to penal servitude, you know! And I am not fit for penal servitude! I am a refined man in delicate health. I like to sleep and eat in cleanliness. When I pray to God I like to light a little lamp or a candle, and not to have a noise around me. When I bow down to the ground I like the floor not to be dirty or spat upon. And I bow down forty times every morning and evening, praying for mamma."

The tramp took off his cap and crossed himself.

"And let them send me to Eastern Siberia," he said; "I am not afraid of that."

"Surely that's no better?"

"It is quite a different thing. In penal servitude you are like a crab in a basket: crowding, crushing, jostling, there's no room to breathe; it's downright hell -- such hell, may the Queen of Heaven keep us from it! You are a robber and treated like a robber -- worse than any dog. You can't sleep, you can't eat or even say your prayers. But it's not like that in a settlement. In a settlement I shall be a member of a commune like other people. The authorities are bound by law to give me my share . . . ye-es! They say the land costs nothing, no more than snow; you can take what you like! They will give me corn land and building land and garden. . . . I shall plough my fields like other people, sow seed. I shall have cattle and stock of all sorts, bees, sheep, and dogs. . . . A Siberian cat, that rats and mice may not devour my goods. . . . I will put up a house, I shall buy ikons. . . . Please God, I'll get married, I shall have children. . . ."

The tramp muttered and looked, not at his listeners, but away into the distance. Naïve as his dreams were, they were uttered in such a genuine and heartfelt tone that it was difficult not to believe in them. The tramp's little mouth was screwed up in a smile. His eyes and little nose and his whole face were fixed and blank with blissful anticipation of happiness in the distant future. The constables listened and looked at him gravely, not without sympathy. They, too, believed in his dreams.

"I am not afraid of Siberia," the tramp went on muttering. "Siberia is just as much Russia and has the same God and Tsar as here. They are just as orthodox Christians as you and I. Only there is more freedom there and people are better off. Everything is better there. Take the rivers there, for instance; they are far better than those here. There's no end of fish; and all sorts of wild fowl. And my greatest pleasure, brothers, is fishing. Give me no bread to eat, but let me sit with a fishhook. Yes, indeed! I fish with a hook and with a wire line, and set creels, and when the ice comes I catch with a net. I am not strong to draw up the net, so I shall hire a man for five kopecks. And, Lord, what a pleasure it is! You catch an eel-pout or a roach of some sort and are as pleased as though you had met your own brother. And would you believe it, there's a special art for every fish: you catch one with a live bait, you catch another with a grub, the third with a frog or a grasshopper. One has to understand all that, of course! For example, take the eel-pout. It is not a delicate fish -- it will take a perch; and a pike loves a gudgeon, the shilishper likes a butterfly. If you fish for a roach in a rapid stream there is no greater pleasure. You throw the line of seventy feet without lead, with a butterfly or a beetle, so that the bait floats on the surface; you stand in the water without your trousers and let it go with the current, and tug! the roach pulls at it! Only you have got to be artful that he doesn't carry off the bait, the damned rascal. As soon as he tugs at your line you must whip it up; it's no good waiting. It's wonderful what a lot of fish I've caught in my time. When we were running away the other convicts would sleep in the forest; I could not sleep, but I was off to the river. The rivers there are wide and rapid, the banks are steep -- awfully! It's all slumbering forests on the bank. The trees are so tall that if you look to the top it makes you dizzy. Every pine would be worth ten roubles by the prices here."

In the overwhelming rush of his fancies, of artistic images of the past and sweet presentiments of happiness in the future, the poor wretch sank into silence, merely moving his lips as though whispering to himself. The vacant, blissful smile never left his lips. The constables were silent. They were pondering with bent heads. In the autumn stillness, when the cold, sullen mist that rises from the earth lies like a weight on the heart, when it stands like a prison wall before the eyes, and reminds man of the limitation of his freedom, it is sweet to think of the broad, rapid rivers, with steep banks wild and luxuriant, of the impenetrable forests, of the boundless steppes. Slowly and quietly the fancy pictures how early in the morning, before the flush of dawn has left the sky, a man makes his way along the steep deserted bank like a tiny speck: the ancient, mast-like pines rise up in terraces on both sides of the torrent, gaze sternly at the free man and murmur menacingly; rocks, huge stones, and thorny bushes bar his way, but he is strong in body and bold in spirit, and has no fear of the pine-trees, nor stones, nor of his solitude, nor of the reverberating echo which repeats the sound of every footstep that he takes.

The peasants called up a picture of a free life such as they had never lived; whether they vaguely recalled the images of stories heard long ago or whether notions of a free life had been handed down to them with their flesh and blood from far-off free ancestors, God knows!

The first to break the silence was Nikandr Sapozhnikov, who had not till then let fall a single word. Whether he envied the tramp's transparent happiness, or whether he felt in his heart that dreams of happiness were out of keeping with the grey fog and the dirty brown mud -- anyway, he looked sternly at the tramp and said:

"It's all very well, to be sure, only you won't reach those plenteous regions, brother. How could you? Before you'd gone two hundred miles you'd give up your soul to God. Just look what a weakling you are! Here you've hardly gone five miles and you can't get your breath."

The tramp turned slowly toward Nikandr, and the blissful smile vanished from his face. He looked with a scared and guilty air at the peasant's staid face, apparently remembered something, and bent his head. A silence followed again. . . . All three were pondering. The peasants were racking their brains in the effort to grasp in their imagination what can be grasped by none but God -- that is, the vast expanse dividing them from the land of freedom. Into the tramp's mind thronged clear and distinct pictures more terrible than that expanse. Before him rose vividly the picture of the long legal delays and procrastinations, the temporary and permanent prisons, the convict boats, the wearisome stoppages on the way, the frozen winters, illnesses, deaths of companions. . . .

The tramp blinked guiltily, wiped the tiny drops of sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, drew a deep breath as though he had just leapt out of a very hot bath, then wiped his forehead with the other sleeve and looked round fearfully.

"That's true; you won't get there!" Ptaha agreed. "You are not much of a walker! Look at you -- nothing but skin and bone! You'll die, brother!"

"Of course he'll die! What could he do?" said Nikandr. "He's fit for the hospital now. . . . For sure!"

The man who had forgotten his name looked at the stern, unconcerned faces of his sinister companions, and without taking off his cap, hurriedly crossed himself, staring with wide-open eyes. . . . He trembled, his head shook, and he began twitching all over, like a caterpillar when it is stepped upon. . . .

"Well, it's time to go," said Nikandr, getting up; "we've had a rest."

A minute later they were stepping along the muddy road. The tramp was more bent than ever, and he thrust his hands further up his sleeves. Ptaha was silent.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 14:24 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

A Peculiar Man

 

 

BETWEEN twelve and one at night a tall gentleman, wearing a top-hat and a coat with a hood, stops before the door of Marya Petrovna Koshkin, a midwife and an old maid. Neither face nor hand can be distinguished in the autumn darkness, but in the very manner of his coughing and the ringing of the bell a certain solidity, positiveness, and even impressiveness can be discerned. After the third ring the door opens and Marya Petrovna herself appears. She has a man's overcoat flung on over her white petticoat. The little lamp with the green shade which she holds in her hand throws a greenish light over her sleepy, freckled face, her scraggy neck, and the lank, reddish hair that strays from under her cap.

"Can I see the midwife?" asks the gentleman.

"I am the midwife. What do you want?"

The gentleman walks into the entry and Marya Petrovna sees facing her a tall, well-made man, no longer young, but with a handsome, severe face and bushy whiskers.

"I am a collegiate assessor, my name is Kiryakov," he says. "I came to fetch you to my wife. Only please make haste."

"Very good . . ." the midwife assents. I'll dress at once, and I must trouble you to wait for me in the parlour."

Kiryakov takes off his overcoat and goes into the parlour. The greenish light of the lamp lies sparsely on the cheap furniture in patched white covers, on the pitiful flowers and the posts on which ivy is trained. . . . There is a smell of geranium and carbolic. The little clock on the wall ticks timidly, as though abashed at the presence of a strange man.

"I am ready," says Marya Petrovna, coming into the room five minutes later, dressed, washed, and ready for action. "Let us go."

"Yes, you must make haste," says Kiryakov. "And, by the way, it is not out of place to enquire -- what do you ask for your services?"

"I really don't know . . ." says Marya Petrovna with an embarrassed smile. "As much as you will give."

"No, I don't like that," says Kiryakov, looking coldly and steadily at the midwife. "An arrangement beforehand is best. I don't want to take advantage of you and you don't want to take advantage of me. To avoid misunderstandings it is more sensible for us to make an arrangement beforehand."

"I really don't know -- there is no fixed price."

"I work myself and am accustomed to respect the work of others. I don't like injustice. It will be equally unpleasant to me if I pay you too little, or if you demand from me too much, and so I insist on your naming your charge."

"Well, there are such different charges."

"H'm. In view of your hesitation, which I fail to understand, I am constrained to fix the sum myself. I can give you two roubles."

"Good gracious! . . . Upon my word! . . ." says Marya Petrovna, turning crimson and stepping back. "I am really ashamed. Rather than take two roubles I will come for nothing . . . . Five roubles, if you like."

"Two roubles, not a kopeck more. I don't want to take advantage of you, but I do not intend to be overcharged."

"As you please, but I am not coming for two roubles. . . ."

"But by law you have not the right to refuse."

"Very well, I will come for nothing."

"I won't have you for nothing. All work ought to receive remuneration. I work myself and I understand that. . . ."

"I won't come for two roubles," Marya Petrovna answers mildly. "I'll come for nothing if you like."

"In that case I regret that I have troubled you for nothing. . . . I have the honour to wish you good-bye."

"Well, you are a man!" says Marya Petrovna, seeing him into the entry. "I will come for three roubles if that will satisfy you."

Kiryakov frowns and ponders for two full minutes, looking with concentration on the floor, then he says resolutely, "No," and goes out into the street. The astonished and disconcerted midwife fastens the door after him and goes back into her bedroom.

"He's good-looking, respectable, but how queer, God bless the man! . . ." she thinks as she gets into bed.

But in less than half an hour she hears another ring; she gets up and sees the same Kiryakov again.

"Extraordinary the way things are mismanaged. Neither the chemist, nor the police, nor the house-porters can give me the address of a midwife, and so I am under the necessity of assenting to your terms. I will give you three roubles, but . . . I warn you beforehand that when I engage servants or receive any kind of services, I make an arrangement beforehand in order that when I pay there may be no talk of extras, tips, or anything of the sort. Everyone ought to receive what is his due."

Marya Petrovna has not listened to Kiryakov for long, but already she feels that she is bored and repelled by him, that his even, measured speech lies like a weight on her soul. She dresses and goes out into the street with him. The air is still but cold, and the sky is so overcast that the light of the street lamps is hardly visible. The sloshy snow squelches under their feet. The midwife looks intently but does not see a cab.

"I suppose it is not far?" she asks.

"No, not far," Kiryakov answers grimly.

They walk down one turning, a second, a third. . . . Kiryakov strides along, and even in his step his respectability and positiveness is apparent.

"What awful weather!" the midwife observes to him.

But he preserves a dignified silence, and it is noticeable that he tries to step on the smooth stones to avoid spoiling his goloshes. At last after a long walk the midwife steps into the entry; from which she can see a big decently furnished drawing-room. There is not a soul in the rooms, even in the bedroom where the woman is lying in labour. . . . The old women and relations who flock in crowds to every confinement are not to be seen. The cook rushes about alone, with a scared and vacant face. There is a sound of loud groans.

Three hours pass. Marya Petrovna sits by the mother's bedside and whispers to her. The two women have already had time to make friends, they have got to know each other, they gossip, they sigh together. . . .

"You mustn't talk," says the midwife anxiously, and at the same time she showers questions on her.

Then the door opens and Kiryakov himself comes quietly and stolidly into the room. He sits down in the chair and strokes his whiskers. Silence reigns. Marya Petrovna looks timidly at his handsome, passionless, wooden face and waits for him to begin to talk, but he remains absolutely silent and absorbed in thought. After waiting in vain, the midwife makes up her mind to begin herself, and utters a phrase commonly used at confinements.

"Well now, thank God, there is one human being more in the world!"

"Yes, that's agreeable," said Kiryakov, preserving the wooden expression of his face, "though indeed, on the other hand, to have more children you must have more money. The baby is not born fed and clothed."

A guilty expression comes into the mother's face, as though she had brought a creature into the world without permission or through idle caprice. Kiryakov gets up with a sigh and walks with solid dignity out of the room.

"What a man, bless him!" says the midwife to the mother. "He's so stern and does not smile."

The mother tells her that he is always like that. . . . He is honest, fair, prudent, sensibly economical, but all that to such an exceptional degree that simple mortals feel suffocated by it. His relations have parted from him, the servants will not stay more than a month; they have no friends; his wife and children are always on tenterhooks from terror over every step they take. He does not shout at them nor beat them, his virtues are far more numerous than his defects, but when he goes out of the house they all feel better, and more at ease. Why it is so the woman herself cannot say.

"The basins must be properly washed and put away in the store cupboard," says Kiryakov, coming into the bedroom. "These bottles must be put away too: they may come in handy."

What he says is very simple and ordinary, but the midwife for some reason feels flustered. She begins to be afraid of the man and shudders every time she hears his footsteps. In the morning as she is preparing to depart she sees Kiryakov's little son, a pale, close-cropped schoolboy, in the dining-room drinking his tea. . . . Kiryakov is standing opposite him, saying in his flat, even voice:

"You know how to eat, you must know how to work too. You have just swallowed a mouthful but have not probably reflected that that mouthful costs money and money is obtained by work. You must eat and reflect. . . ."

The midwife looks at the boy's dull face, and it seems to her as though the very air is heavy, that a little more and the very walls will fall, unable to endure the crushing presence of the peculiar man. Beside herself with terror, and by now feeling a violent hatred for the man, Marya Petrovna gathers up her bundles and hurriedly departs.

Half-way home she remembers that she has forgotten to ask for her three roubles, but after stopping and thinking for a minute, with a wave of her hand, she goes on.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 14:18 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

In The Court

 

 

AT the district town of N. in the cinnamon-coloured government house in which the Zemstvo, the sessional meetings of the justices of the peace, the Rural Board, the Liquor Board, the Military Board, and many others sit by turns, the Circuit Court was in session on one of the dull days of autumn. Of the above-mentioned cinnamon-coloured house a local official had wittily observed:

"Here is Justitia, here is Policia, here is Militia -- a regular boarding school of high-born young ladies."

But, as the saying is, "Too many cooks spoil the broth," and probably that is why the house strikes, oppresses, and overwhelms a fresh unofficial visitor with its dismal barrack-like appearance, its decrepit condition, and the complete absence of any kind of comfort, external or internal. Even on the brightest spring days it seems wrapped in a dense shade, and on clear moonlight nights, when the trees and the little dwelling-houses merged in one blur of shadow seem plunged in quiet slumber, it alone absurdly and inappropriately towers, an oppressive mass of stone, above the modest landscape, spoils the general harmony, and keeps sleepless vigil as though it could not escape from burdensome memories of past unforgiven sins. Inside it is like a barn and extremely unattractive. It is strange to see how readily these elegant lawyers, members of committees, and marshals of nobility, who in their own homes will make a scene over the slightest fume from the stove, or stain on the floor, resign themselves here to whirring ventilation wheels, the disgusting smell of fumigating candles, and the filthy, forever perspiring walls.

The sitting of the circuit court began between nine and ten. The programme of the day was promptly entered upon, with noticeable haste. The cases came on one after another and ended quickly, like a church service without a choir, so that no mind could form a complete picture of all this parti-coloured mass of faces, movements, words, misfortunes, true sayings and lies, all racing by like a river in flood. . . . By two o'clock a great deal had been done: two prisoners had been sentenced to service in convict battalions, one of the privileged class had been sentenced to deprivation of rights and imprisonment, one had been acquitted, one case had been adjourned.

At precisely two o'clock the presiding judge announced that the case "of the peasant Nikolay Harlamov, charged with the murder of his wife," would next be heard. The composition of the court remained the same as it had been for the preceding case, except that the place of the defending counsel was filled by a new personage, a beardless young graduate in a coat with bright buttons. The president gave the order -- "Bring in the prisoner!"

But the prisoner, who had been got ready beforehand, was already walking to his bench. He was a tall, thick-set peasant of about fifty-five, completely bald, with an apathetic, hairy face and a big red beard. He was followed by a frail-looking little soldier with a gun.

Just as he was reaching the bench the escort had a trifling mishap. He stumbled and dropped the gun out of his hands, but caught it at once before it touched the ground, knocking his knee violently against the butt end as he did so. A faint laugh was audible in the audience. Either from the pain or perhaps from shame at his awkwardness the soldier flushed a dark red.

After the customary questions to the prisoner, the shuffling of the jury, the calling over and swearing in of the witnesses, the reading of the charge began. The narrow-chested, pale-faced secretary, far too thin for his uniform, and with sticking plaster on his check, read it in a low, thick bass, rapidly like a sacristan, without raising or dropping his voice, as though afraid of exerting his lungs; he was seconded by the ventilation wheel whirring indefatigably behind the judge's table, and the result was a sound that gave a drowsy, narcotic character to the stillness of the hall.

The president, a short-sighted man, not old but with an extremely exhausted face, sat in his armchair without stirring and held his open hand near his brow as though screening his eyes from the sun. To the droning of the ventilation wheel and the secretary he meditated. When the secretary paused for an instant to take breath on beginning a new page, he suddenly started and looked round at the court with lustreless eyes, then bent down to the ear of the judge next to him and asked with a sigh:

"Are you putting up at Demyanov's, Matvey Petrovitch?"

"Yes, at Demyanov's," answered the other, starting too.

"Next time I shall probably put up there too. It's really impossible to put up at Tipyakov's! There's noise and uproar all night! Knocking, coughing, children crying. . . . It's impossible!"

The assistant prosecutor, a fat, well-nourished, dark man with gold spectacles, with a handsome, well-groomed beard, sat motionless as a statue, with his cheek propped on his fist, reading Byron's "Cain." His eyes were full of eager attention and his eyebrows rose higher and higher with wonder. . . . From time to time he dropped back in his chair, gazed without interest straight before him for a minute, and then buried himself in his reading again. The council for the defence moved the blunt end of his pencil about the table and mused with his head on one side. . . . His youthful face expressed nothing but the frigid, immovable boredom which is commonly seen on the face of schoolboys and men on duty who are forced from day to day to sit in the same place, to see the same faces, the same walls. He felt no excitement about the speech he was to make, and indeed what did that speech amount to? On instructions from his superiors in accordance with long-established routine he would fire it off before the jurymen, without passion or ardour, feeling that it was colourless and boring, and then -- gallop through the mud and the rain to the station, thence to the town, shortly to receive instructions to go off again to some district to deliver another speech. . . . It was a bore!

At first the prisoner turned pale and coughed nervously into his sleeve, but soon the stillness, the general monotony and boredom infected him too. He looked with dull-witted respectfulness at the judges' uniforms, at the weary faces of the jurymen, and blinked calmly. The surroundings and procedure of the court, the expectation of which had so weighed on his soul while he was awaiting them in prison, now had the most soothing effect on him. What he met here was not at all what he could have expected. The charge of murder hung over him, and yet here he met with neither threatening faces nor indignant looks nor loud phrases about retribution nor sympathy for his extraordinary fate; not one of those who were judging him looked at him with interest or for long. . . . The dingy windows and walls, the voice of the secretary, the attitude of the prosecutor were all saturated with official indifference and produced an atmosphere of frigidity, as though the murderer were simply an official property, or as though he were not being judged by living men, but by some unseen machine, set going, goodness knows how or by whom. . . .

The peasant, reassured, did not understand that the men here were as accustomed to the dramas and tragedies of life and were as blunted by the sight of them as hospital attendants are at the sight of death, and that the whole horror and hopelessness of his position lay just in this mechanical indifference. It seemed that if he were not to sit quietly but to get up and begin beseeching, appealing with tears for their mercy, bitterly repenting, that if he were to die of despair -- it would all be shattered against blunted nerves and the callousness of custom, like waves against a rock.

When the secretary finished, the president for some reason passed his hands over the table before him, looked for some time with his eyes screwed up towards the prisoner, and then asked, speaking languidly:

"Prisoner at the bar, do you plead guilty to having murdered your wife on the evening of the ninth of June?"

"No, sir," answered the prisoner, getting up and holding his gown over his chest.

After this the court proceeded hurriedly to the examination of witnesses. Two peasant women and five men and the village policeman who had made the enquiry were questioned. All of them, mud-bespattered, exhausted with their long walk and waiting in the witnesses' room, gloomy and dispirited, gave the same evidence. They testified that Harlamov lived "well" with his old woman, like anyone else; that he never beat her except when he had had a drop; that on the ninth of June when the sun was setting the old woman had been found in the porch with her skull broken; that beside her in a pool of blood lay an axe. When they looked for Nikolay to tell him of the calamity he was not in his hut or in the streets. They ran all over the village, looking for him. They went to all the pothouses and huts, but could not find him. He had disappeared, and two days later came of his own accord to the police office, pale, with his clothes torn, trembling all over. He was bound and put in the lock-up.

"Prisoner," said the president, addressing Harlamov, "cannot you explain to the court where you were during the three days following the murder?"

"I was wandering about the fields. . . . Neither eating nor drinking. . . ."

"Why did you hide yourself, if it was not you that committed the murder?

"I was frightened. . . . I was afraid I might be judged guilty. . . ."

"Aha! . . . Good, sit down!"

The last to be examined was the district doctor who had made a post-mortem on the old woman. He told the court all that he remembered of his report at the post-mortem and all that he had succeeded in thinking of on his way to the court that morning. The president screwed up his eyes at his new glossy black suit, at his foppish cravat, at his moving lips; he listened and in his mind the languid thought seemed to spring up of itself:

"Everyone wears a short jacket nowadays, why has he had his made long? Why long and not short?"

The circumspect creak of boots was audible behind the president's back. It was the assistant prosecutor going up to the table to take some papers.

"Mihail Vladimirovitch," said the assistant prosecutor, bending down to the president's ear, "amazingly slovenly the way that Koreisky conducted the investigation. The prisoner's brother was not examined, the village elder was not examined, there's no making anything out of his description of the hut. . . ."

"It can't be helped, it can't be helped," said the president, sinking back in his chair. "He's a wreck . . . dropping to bits!"

"By the way," whispered the assistant prosecutor, "look at the audience, in the front row, the third from the right . . . a face like an actor's . . . that's the local Croesus. He has a fortune of something like fifty thousand."

"Really? You wouldn't guess it from his appearance. . . . Well, dear boy, shouldn't we have a break?"

"We will finish the case for the prosecution, and then. . . ."

"As you think best. . . . Well?" the president raised his eyes to the doctor. "So you consider that death was instantaneous?"

"Yes, in consequence of the extent of the injury to the brain substance. . . ."

When the doctor had finished, the president gazed into the space between the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence and suggested:

"Have you any questions to ask?"

The assistant prosecutor shook his head negatively, without lifting his eyes from "Cain"; the counsel for the defence unexpectedly stirred and, clearing his throat, asked:

"Tell me, doctor, can you from the dimensions of the wound form any theory as to . . . as to the mental condition of the criminal? That is, I mean, does the extent of the injury justify the supposition that the accused was suffering from temporary aberration?"

The president raised his drowsy indifferent eyes to the counsel for the defence. The assistant prosecutor tore himself from "Cain," and looked at the president. They merely looked, but there was no smile, no surprise, no perplexity-their faces expressed nothing.

"Perhaps," the doctor hesitated, "if one considers the force with which . . . er--er--er . . . the criminal strikes the blow. . . . However, excuse me, I don't quite understand your question. . . ."

The counsel for the defence did not get an answer to his question, and indeed he did not feel the necessity of one. It was clear even to himself that that question had strayed into his mind and found utterance simply through the effect of the stillness, the boredom, the whirring ventilator wheels.

When they had got rid of the doctor the court rose to examine the "material evidences." The first thing examined was the full-skirted coat, upon the sleeve of which there was a dark brownish stain of blood. Harlamov on being questioned as to the origin of the stain stated:

"Three days before my old woman's death Penkov bled his horse. I was there; I was helping to be sure, and . . . and got smeared with it. . . ."

"But Penkov has just given evidence that he does not remember that you were present at the bleeding. . . ."

"I can't tell about that."

"Sit down."

They proceeded to examine the axe with which the old woman had been murdered.

"That's not my axe," the prisoner declared.

"Whose is it, then?"

"I can't tell . . . I hadn't an axe. . . ."

"A peasant can't get on for a day without an axe. And your neighbour Ivan Timofeyitch, with whom you mended a sledge, has given evidence that it is your axe. . . ."

"I can't say about that, but I swear before God (Harlamov held out his hand before him and spread out the fingers), before the living God. And I don't remember how long it is since I did have an axe of my own. I did have one like that only a bit smaller, but my son Prohor lost it. Two years before he went into the army, he drove off to fetch wood, got drinking with the fellows, and lost it. . . ."

"Good, sit down."

This systematic distrust and disinclination to hear him probably irritated and offended Harlamov. He blinked and red patches came out on his cheekbones.

"I swear in the sight of God," he went on, craning his neck forward. "If you don't believe me, be pleased to ask my son Prohor. Proshka, what did you do with the axe?" he suddenly asked in a rough voice, turning abruptly to the soldier escorting him. "Where is it?"

It was a painful moment! Everyone seemed to wince and as it were shrink together. The same fearful, incredible thought flashed like lightning through every head in the court, the thought of possibly fatal coincidence, and not one person in the court dared to look at the soldier's face. Everyone refused to trust his thought and believed that he had heard wrong.

"Prisoner, conversation with the guards is forbidden . . ." the president made haste to say.

No one saw the escort's face, and horror passed over the hall unseen as in a mask. The usher of the court got up quietly from his place and tiptoeing with his hand held out to balance himself went out of the court. Half a minute later there came the muffled sounds and footsteps that accompany the change of guard.

All raised their heads and, trying to look as though nothing had happened, went on with their work. . . .

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 14:17 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Difficult People

 

 

YEVGRAF IVANOVITCH SHIRYAEV, a small farmer, whose father, a parish priest, now deceased, had received a gift of three hundred acres of land from Madame Kuvshinnikov, a general's widow, was standing in a corner before a copper washing-stand, washing his hands. As usual, his face looked anxious and ill-humoured, and his beard was uncombed.

"What weather!" he said. "It's not weather, but a curse laid upon us. It's raining again!"

He grumbled on, while his family sat waiting at table for him to have finished washing his hands before beginning dinner. Fedosya Semyonovna, his wife, his son Pyotr, a student, his eldest daughter Varvara, and three small boys, had been sitting waiting a long time. The boys -- Kolka, Vanka, and Arhipka -- grubby, snub-nosed little fellows with chubby faces and tousled hair that wanted cutting, moved their chairs impatiently, while their elders sat without stirring, and apparently did not care whether they ate their dinner or waited. . . .

As though trying their patience, Shiryaev deliberately dried his hands, deliberately said his prayer, and sat down to the table without hurrying himself. Cabbage-soup was served immediately. The sound of carpenters' axes (Shiryaev was having a new barn built) and the laughter of Fomka, their labourer, teasing the turkey, floated in from the courtyard.

Big, sparse drops of rain pattered on the window.

Pyotr, a round-shouldered student in spectacles, kept exchanging glances with his mother as he ate his dinner. Several times he laid down his spoon and cleared his throat, meaning to begin to speak, but after an intent look at his father he fell to eating again. At last, when the porridge had been served, he cleared his throat resolutely and said:

"I ought to go tonight by the evening train. I out to have gone before; I have missed a fortnight as it is. The lectures begin on the first of September."

"Well, go," Shiryaev assented; "why are you lingering on here? Pack up and go, and good luck to you."

A minute passed in silence.

"He must have money for the journey, Yevgraf Ivanovitch," the mother observed in a low voice.

"Money? To be sure, you can't go without money. Take it at once, since you need it. You could have had it long ago!"

The student heaved a faint sigh and looked with relief at his mother. Deliberately Shiryaev took a pocket-book out of his coat-pocket and put on his spectacles.

"How much do you want?" he asked.

"The fare to Moscow is eleven roubles forty-two kopecks. . . ."

"Ah, money, money!" sighed the father. (He always sighed when he saw money, even when he was receiving it.) "Here are twelve roubles for you. You will have change out of that which will be of use to you on the journey."

"Thank you."

After waiting a little, the student said:

"I did not get lessons quite at first last year. I don't know how it will be this year; most likely it will take me a little time to find work. I ought to ask you for fifteen roubles for my lodging and dinner."

Shiryaev thought a little and heaved a sigh.

"You will have to make ten do," he said. "Here, take it."

The student thanked him. He ought to have asked him for something more, for clothes, for lecture fees, for books, but after an intent look at his father he decided not to pester him further.

The mother, lacking in diplomacy and prudence, like all mothers, could not restrain herself, and said:

"You ought to give him another six roubles, Yevgraf Ivanovitch, for a pair of boots. Why, just see, how can he go to Moscow in such wrecks?"

"Let him take my old ones; they are still quite good."

"He must have trousers, anyway; he is a disgrace to look at."

And immediately after that a storm-signal showed itself, at the sight of which all the family trembled.

Shiryaev's short, fat neck turned suddenly red as a beetroot. The colour mounted slowly to his ears, from his ears to his temples, and by degrees suffused his whole face. Yevgraf Ivanovitch shifted in his chair and unbuttoned his shirt-collar to save himself from choking. He was evidently struggling with the feeling that was mastering him. A deathlike silence followed. The children held their breath. Fedosya Semyonovna, as though she did not grasp what was happening to her husband, went on:

"He is not a little boy now, you know; he is ashamed to go about without clothes."

Shiryaev suddenly jumped up, and with all his might flung down his fat pocket-book in the middle of the table, so that a hunk of bread flew off a plate. A revolting expression of anger, resentment, avarice -- all mixed together -- flamed on his face.

"Take everything!" he shouted in an unnatural voice; "plunder me! Take it all! Strangle me!"

He jumped up from the table, clutched at his head, and ran staggering about the room.

"Strip me to the last thread!" he shouted in a shrill voice. "Squeeze out the last drop! Rob me! Wring my neck!"

The student flushed and dropped his eyes. He could not go on eating. Fedosya Semyonovna, who had not after twenty-five years grown used to her husband's difficult character, shrank into herself and muttered something in self-defence. An expression of amazement and dull terror came into her wasted and birdlike face, which at all times looked dull and scared. The little boys and the elder daughter Varvara, a girl in her teens, with a pale ugly face, laid down their spoons and sat mute.

Shiryaev, growing more and more ferocious, uttering words each more terrible than the one before, dashed up to the table and began shaking the notes out of his pocket-book.

"Take them!" he muttered, shaking all over. "You've eaten and drunk your fill, so here's money for you too! I need nothing! Order yourself new boots and uniforms!"

The student turned pale and got up.

"Listen, papa," he began, gasping for breath. "I . . . I beg you to end this, for . . ."

"Hold your tongue!" the father shouted at him, and so loudly that the spectacles fell off his nose; "hold your tongue!"

"I used . . . I used to be able to put up with such scenes, but . . . but now I have got out of the way of it. Do you understand? I have got out of the way of it!"

"Hold your tongue!" cried the father, and he stamped with his feet. "You must listen to what I say! I shall say what I like, and you hold your tongue. At your age I was earning my living, while you . . . Do you know what you cost me, you scoundrel? I'll turn you out! Wastrel!"

"Yevgraf Ivanovitch," muttered Fedosya Semyonovna, moving her fingers nervously; "you know he. . . you know Petya . . . !"

"Hold your tongue!" Shiryaev shouted out to her, and tears actually came into his eyes from anger. "It is you who have spoilt them -- you! It's all your fault! He has no respect for us, does not say his prayers, and earns nothing! I am only one against the ten of you! I'll turn you out of the house!"

The daughter Varvara gazed fixedly at her mother with her mouth open, moved her vacant-looking eyes to the window, turned pale, and, uttering a loud shriek, fell back in her chair. The father, with a curse and a wave of the hand, ran out into the yard.

This was how domestic scenes usually ended at the Shiryaevs'. But on this occasion, unfortunately, Pyotr the student was carried away by overmastering anger. He was just as hasty and ill-tempered as his father and his grandfather the priest, who used to beat his parishioners about the head with a stick. Pale and clenching his fists, he went up to his mother and shouted in the very highest tenor note his voice could reach:

"These reproaches are loathsome! sickening to me! I want nothing from you! Nothing! I would rather die of hunger than eat another mouthful at your expense! Take your nasty money back! take it!"

The mother huddled against the wall and waved her hands, as though it were not her son, but some phantom before her. "What have I done?" she wailed. "What?"

Like his father, the boy waved his hands and ran into the yard. Shiryaev's house stood alone on a ravine which ran like a furrow for four miles along the steppe. Its sides were overgrown with oak saplings and alders, and a stream ran at the bottom. On one side the house looked towards the ravine, on the other towards the open country, there were no fences nor hurdles. Instead there were farm-buildings of all sorts close to one another, shutting in a small space in front of the house which was regarded as the yard, and in which hens, ducks, and pigs ran about.

Going out of the house, the student walked along the muddy road towards the open country. The air was full of a penetrating autumn dampness. The road was muddy, puddles gleamed here and there, and in the yellow fields autumn itself seemed looking out from the grass, dismal, decaying, dark. On the right-hand side of the road was a vegetable-garden cleared of its crops and gloomy-looking, with here and there sunflowers standing up in it with hanging heads already black.

Pyotr thought it would not be a bad thing to walk to Moscow on foot; to walk just as he was, with holes in his boots, without a cap, and without a farthing of money. When he had gone eighty miles his father, frightened and aghast, would overtake him, would begin begging him to turn back or take the money, but he would not even look at him, but would go on and on. . . . Bare forests would be followed by desolate fields, fields by forests again; soon the earth would be white with the first snow, and the streams would be coated with ice. . . . Somewhere near Kursk or near Serpuhovo, exhausted and dying of hunger, he would sink down and die. His corpse would be found, and there would be a paragraph in all the papers saying that a student called Shiryaev had died of hunger. . . .

A white dog with a muddy tail who was wandering about the vegetable-garden looking for something gazed at him and sauntered after him.

He walked along the road and thought of death, of the grief of his family, of the moral sufferings of his father, and then pictured all sorts of adventures on the road, each more marvellous than the one before -- picturesque places, terrible nights, chance encounters. He imagined a string of pilgrims, a hut in the forest with one little window shining in the darkness; he stands before the window, begs for a night's lodging. . . . They let him in, and suddenly he sees that they are robbers. Or, better still, he is taken into a big manor-house, where, learning who he is, they give him food and drink, play to him on the piano, listen to his complaints, and the daughter of the house, a beauty, falls in love with him.

Absorbed in his bitterness and such thoughts, young Shiryaev walked on and on. Far, far ahead he saw the inn, a dark patch against the grey background of cloud. Beyond the inn, on the very horizon, he could see a little hillock; this was the railway-station. That hillock reminded him of the connection existing between the place where he was now standing and Moscow, where street-lamps were burning and carriages were rattling in the streets, where lectures were being given. And he almost wept with depression and impatience. The solemn landscape, with its order and beauty, the deathlike stillness all around, revolted him and moved him to despair and hatred!

"Look out!" He heard behind him a loud voice.

An old lady of his acquaintance, a landowner of the neighbourhood, drove past him in a light, elegant landau. He bowed to her, and smiled all over his face. And at once he caught himself in that smile, which was so out of keeping with his gloomy mood. Where did it come from if his whole heart was full of vexation and misery? And he thought nature itself had given man this capacity for lying, that even in difficult moments of spiritual strain he might be able to hide the secrets of his nest as the fox and the wild duck do. Every family has its joys and its horrors, but however great they may be, it's hard for an outsider's eye to see them; they are a secret. The father of the old lady who had just driven by, for instance, had for some offence lain for half his lifetime under the ban of the wrath of Tsar Nicolas I.; her husband had been a gambler; of her four sons, not one had turned out well. One could imagine how many terrible scenes there must have been in her life, how many tears must have been shed. And yet the old lady seemed happy and satisfied, and she had answered his smile by smiling too. The student thought of his comrades, who did not like talking about their families; he thought of his mother, who almost always lied when she had to speak of her husband and children. . . .

Pyotr walked about the roads far from home till dusk, abandoning himself to dreary thoughts. When it began to drizzle with rain he turned homewards. As he walked back he made up his mind at all costs to talk to his father, to explain to him, once and for all, that it was dreadful and oppressive to live with him.

He found perfect stillness in the house. His sister Varvara was lying behind a screen with a headache, moaning faintly. His mother, with a look of amazement and guilt upon her face, was sitting beside her on a box, mending Arhipka's trousers. Yevgraf Ivanovitch was pacing from one window to another, scowling at the weather. From his walk, from the way he cleared his throat, and even from the back of his head, it was evident he felt himself to blame.

"I suppose you have changed your mind about going today?" he asked.

The student felt sorry for him, but immediately suppressing that feeling, he said:

"Listen . . . I must speak to you seriously. . . yes, seriously. I have always respected you, and . . . and have never brought myself to speak to you in such a tone, but your behaviour . . . your last action . . ."

The father looked out of the window and did not speak. The student, as though considering his words, rubbed his forehead and went on in great excitement:

"Not a dinner or tea passes without your making an uproar. Your bread sticks in our throat. . . nothing is more bitter, more humiliating, than bread that sticks in one's throat. . . . Though you are my father, no one, neither God nor nature, has given you the right to insult and humiliate us so horribly, to vent your ill-humour on the weak. You have worn my mother out and made a slave of her, my sister is hopelessly crushed, while I . . ."

"It's not your business to teach me," said his father.

"Yes, it is my business! You can quarrel with me as much as you like, but leave my mother in peace! I will not allow you to torment my mother!" the student went on, with flashing eyes. "You are spoilt because no one has yet dared to oppose you. They tremble and are mute towards you, but now that is over! Coarse, ill-bred man! You are coarse . . . do you understand? You are coarse, ill-humoured, unfeeling. And the peasants can't endure you!"

The student had by now lost his thread, and was not so much speaking as firing off detached words. Yevgraf Ivanovitch listened in silence, as though stunned; but suddenly his neck turned crimson, the colour crept up his face, and he made a movement.

"Hold your tongue!" he shouted.

"That's right!" the son persisted; "you don't like to hear the truth! Excellent! Very good! begin shouting! Excellent!"

"Hold your tongue, I tell you!" roared Yevgraf Ivanovitch.

Fedosya Semyonovna appeared in the doorway, very pale, with an astonished face; she tried to say something, but she could not, and could only move her fingers.

"It's all your fault!" Shiryaev shouted at her. "You have brought him up like this!"

"I don't want to go on living in this house!" shouted the student, crying, and looking angrily at his mother. "I don't want to live with you!"

Varvara uttered a shriek behind the screen and broke into loud sobs. With a wave of his hand, Shiryaev ran out of the house.

The student went to his own room and quietly lay down. He lay till midnight without moving or opening his eyes. He felt neither anger nor shame, but a vague ache in his soul. He neither blamed his father nor pitied his mother, nor was he tormented by stings of conscience; he realized that every one in the house was feeling the same ache, and God only knew which was most to blame, which was suffering most. . . .

At midnight he woke the labourer, and told him to have the horse ready at five o'clock in the morning for him to drive to the station; he undressed and got into bed, but could not get to sleep. He heard how his father, still awake, paced slowly from window to window, sighing, till early morning. No one was asleep; they spoke rarely, and only in whispers. Twice his mother came to him behind the screen. Always with the same look of vacant wonder, she slowly made the cross over him, shaking nervously.

At five o'clock in the morning he said good-bye to them all affectionately, and even shed tears. As he passed his father's room, he glanced in at the door. Yevgraf Ivanovitch, who had not taken off his clothes or gone to bed, was standing by the window, drumming on the panes.

"Good-bye; I am going," said his son.

"Good-bye . . . the money is on the round table . . ." his father answered, without turning round.

A cold, hateful rain was falling as the labourer drove him to the station. The sunflowers were drooping their heads still lower, and the grass seemed darker than ever.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 14:15 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

A Trifle From Life

 

 

A WELL-FED, red-cheeked young man called Nikolay Ilyitch Belyaev, of thirty-two, who was an owner of house property in Petersburg, and a devotee of the race-course, went one evening to see Olga Ivanovna Irnin, with whom he was living, or, to use his own expression, was dragging out a long, wearisome romance. And, indeed, the first interesting and enthusiastic pages of this romance had long been perused; now the pages dragged on, and still dragged on, without presenting anything new or of interest.

Not finding Olga Ivanovna at home, my hero lay down on the lounge chair and proceeded to wait for her in the drawing-room.

"Good-evening, Nikolay Ilyitch!" he heard a child's voice. "Mother will be here directly. She has gone with Sonia to the dressmaker's."

Olga Ivanovna's son, Alyosha -- a boy of eight who looked graceful and very well cared for, who was dressed like a picture, in a black velvet jacket and long black stockings -- was lying on the sofa in the same room. He was lying on a satin cushion and, evidently imitating an acrobat he had lately seen at the circus, stuck up in the air first one leg and then the other. When his elegant legs were exhausted, he brought his arms into play or jumped up impulsively and went on all fours, trying to stand with his legs in the air. All this he was doing with the utmost gravity, gasping and groaning painfully as though he regretted that God had given him such a restless body.

"Ah, good-evening, my boy," said Belyaev. "It's you! I did not notice you. Is your mother well?"

Alyosha, taking hold of the tip of his left toe with his right hand and falling into the most unnatural attitude, turned over, jumped up, and peeped at Belyaev from behind the big fluffy lampshade.

"What shall I say?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "In reality mother's never well. You see, she is a woman, and women, Nikolay Ilyitch, have always something the matter with them."

Belyaev, having nothing better to do, began watching Alyosha's face. He had never before during the whole of his intimacy with Olga Ivanovna paid any attention to the boy, and had completely ignored his existence; the boy had been before his eyes, but he had not cared to think why he was there and what part he was playing.

In the twilight of the evening, Alyosha's face, with his white forehead and black, unblinking eyes, unexpectedly reminded Belyaev of Olga Ivanovna as she had been during the first pages of their romance. And he felt disposed to be friendly to the boy.

"Come here, insect," he said; "let me have a closer look at you."

The boy jumped off the sofa and skipped up to Belyaev.

"Well," began Nikolay Ilyitch, putting a hand on the boy's thin shoulder. "How are you getting on?"

"How shall I say! We used to get on a great deal better."

"Why?"

"It's very simple. Sonia and I used only to learn music and reading, and now they give us French poetry to learn. Have you been shaved lately?"

"Yes."

"Yes, I see you have. Your beard is shorter. Let me touch it. . . . Does that hurt?"

"No."

"Why is it that if you pull one hair it hurts, but if you pull a lot at once it doesn't hurt a bit? Ha, ha! And, you know, it's a pity you don't have whiskers. Here ought to be shaved . . . but here at the sides the hair ought to be left. . . ."

The boy nestled up to Belyaev and began playing with his watch-chain.

"When I go to the high-school," he said, "mother is going to buy me a watch. I shall ask her to buy me a watch-chain like this. . . . Wh-at a lo-ket! Father's got a locket like that, only yours has little bars on it and his has letters. . . . There's mother's portrait in the middle of his. Father has a different sort of chain now, not made with rings, but like ribbon. . . ."

"How do you know? Do you see your father?"

"I? M'm . . . no . . . I . . ."

Alyosha blushed, and in great confusion, feeling caught in a lie, began zealously scratching the locket with his nail. . . . Belyaev looked steadily into his face and asked:

"Do you see your father?"

"N-no!"

"Come, speak frankly, on your honour. . . . I see from your face you are telling a fib. Once you've let a thing slip out it's no good wriggling about it. Tell me, do you see him? Come, as a friend."

Alyosha hesitated.

"You won't tell mother?" he said.

"As though I should!"

"On your honour?"

"On my honour."

"Do you swear?"

"Ah, you provoking boy! What do you take me for?"

Alyosha looked round him, then with wide-open eyes, whispered to him:

"Only, for goodness' sake, don't tell mother. . . . Don't tell any one at all, for it is a secret. I hope to goodness mother won't find out, or we should all catch it -- Sonia, and I, and Pelagea. . . . Well, listen. . . Sonia and I see father every Tuesday and Friday. When Pelagea takes us for a walk before dinner we go to the Apfel Restaurant, and there is father waiting for us. . . . He is always sitting in a room apart, where you know there's a marble table and an ash-tray in the shape of a goose without a back. . . ."

"What do you do there?"

"Nothing! First we say how-do-you-do, then we all sit round the table, and father treats us with coffee and pies. You know Sonia eats the meat-pies, but I can't endure meat-pies! I like the pies made of cabbage and eggs. We eat such a lot that we have to try hard to eat as much as we can at dinner, for fear mother should notice."

"What do you talk about?"

"With father? About anything. He kisses us, he hugs us, tells us all sorts of amusing jokes. Do you know, he says when we are grown up he is going to take us to live with him. Sonia does not want to go, but I agree. Of course, I should miss mother; but, then, I should write her letters! It's a queer idea, but we could come and visit her on holidays -- couldn't we? Father says, too, that he will buy me a horse. He's an awfully kind man! I can't understand why mother does not ask him to come and live with us, and why she forbids us to see him. You know he loves mother very much. He is always asking us how she is and what she is doing. When she was ill he clutched his head like this, and . . . and kept running about. He always tells us to be obedient and respectful to her. Listen. Is it true that we are unfortunate?"

"H'm! . . . Why?"

"That's what father says. 'You are unhappy children,' he says. It's strange to hear him, really. 'You are unhappy,' he says, 'I am unhappy, and mother's unhappy. You must pray to God,' he says; 'for yourselves and for her.' "

Alyosha let his eyes rest on a stuffed bird and sank into thought.

"So . . ." growled Belyaev. "So that's how you are going on. You arrange meetings at restaurants. And mother does not know?"

"No-o. . . . How should she know? Pelagea would not tell her for anything, you know. The day before yesterday he gave us some pears. As sweet as jam! I ate two."

"H'm! . . . Well, and I say . . Listen. Did father say anything about me?"

"About you? What shall I say?"

Alyosha looked searchingly into Belyaev's face and shrugged his shoulders.

"He didn't say anything particular."

"For instance, what did he say?"

"You won't be offended?"

"What next? Why, does he abuse me?"

"He doesn't abuse you, but you know he is angry with you. He says mother's unhappy owing to you . . . and that you have ruined mother. You know he is so queer! I explain to him that you are kind, that you never scold mother; but he only shakes his head."

"So he says I have ruined her?"

"Yes; you mustn't be offended, Nikolay Ilyitch."

Belyaev got up, stood still a moment, and walked up and down the drawing-room.

"That's strange and . . . ridiculous!" he muttered, shrugging his shoulders and smiling sarcastically. "He's entirely to blame, and I have ruined her, eh? An innocent lamb, I must say. So he told you I ruined your mother?"

"Yes, but . . . you said you would not be offended, you know."

"I am not offended, and . . . and it's not your business. Why, it's . . . why, it's positively ridiculous! I have been thrust into it like a chicken in the broth, and now it seems I'm to blame!"

A ring was heard. The boy sprang up from his place and ran out. A minute later a lady came into the room with a little girl; this was Olga Ivanovna, Alyosha's mother. Alyosha followed them in, skipping and jumping, humming aloud and waving his hands. Belyaev nodded, and went on walking up and down.

"Of course, whose fault is it if not mine?" he muttered with a snort. "He is right! He is an injured husband."

"What are you talking about?" asked Olga Ivanovna.

"What about? . . . Why, just listen to the tales your lawful spouse is spreading now! It appears that I am a scoundrel and a villain, that I have ruined you and the children. All of you are unhappy, and I am the only happy one! Wonderfully, wonderfully happy!"

"I don't understand, Nikolay. What's the matter?"

"Why, listen to this young gentleman!" said Belyaev, pointing to Alyosha.

Alyosha flushed crimson, then turned pale, and his whole face began working with terror.

"Nikolay Ilyitch," he said in a loud whisper. "Sh-sh!"

Olga Ivanovna looked in surprise at Alyosha, then at Belyaev, then at Alyosha again.

"Just ask him," Belyaev went on. "Your Pelagea, like a regular fool, takes them about to restaurants and arranges meetings with their papa. But that's not the point: the point is that their dear papa is a victim, while I'm a wretch who has broken up both your lives. . ."

"Nikolay Ilyitch," moaned Alyosha. "Why, you promised on your word of honour!"

"Oh, get away!" said Belyaev, waving him off. "This is more important than any word of honour. It's the hypocrisy revolts me, the lying! . . ."

"I don't understand it," said Olga Ivanovna, and tears glistened in her eyes. "Tell me, Alyosha," she turned to her son. "Do you see your father?"

Alyosha did not hear her; he was looking with horror at Belyaev.

"It's impossible," said his mother; "I will go and question Pelagea."

Olga Ivanovna went out.

"I say, you promised on your word of honour!" said Alyosha, trembling all over.

Belyaev dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and went on walking up and down. He was absorbed in his grievance and was oblivious of the boy's presence, as he always had been. He, a grownup, serious person, had no thought to spare for boys. And Alyosha sat down in the corner and told Sonia with horror how he had been deceived. He was trembling, stammering, and crying. It was the first time in his life that he had been brought into such coarse contact with lying; till then he had not known that there are in the world, besides sweet pears, pies, and expensive watches, a great many things for which the language of children has no expression.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:30 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

A Tripping Tongue

 

 

NATALYA MIHALOVNA, a young married lady who had arrived in the morning from Yalta, was having her dinner, and in a never-ceasing flow of babble was telling her husband of all the charms of the Crimea. Her husband, delighted, gazed tenderly at her enthusiastic face, listened, and from time to time put in a question.

"But they say living is dreadfully expensive there?" he asked, among other things.

"Well, what shall I say? To my thinking this talk of its being so expensive is exaggerated, hubby. The devil is not as black as he is painted. Yulia Petrovna and I, for instance, had very decent and comfortable rooms for twenty roubles a day. Everything depends on knowing how to do things, my dear. Of course if you want to go up into the mountains . . . to Aie-Petri for instance . . . if you take a horse, a guide, then of course it does come to something. It's awful what it comes to! But, Vassitchka, the mountains there! Imagine high, high mountains, a thousand times higher than the church. . . . At the top -- mist, mist, mist. . . . At the bottom -- enormous stones, stones, stones. . . . And pines. . . . Ah, I can't bear to think of it!"

"By the way, I read about those Tatar guides there, in some magazine while you were away . . . . such abominable stories! Tell me is there really anything out of the way about them?"

Natalya Mihalovna made a little disdainful grimace and shook her head.

"Just ordinary Tatars, nothing special . . ." she said, "though indeed I only had a glimpse of them in the distance. They were pointed out to me, but I did not take much notice of them. You know, hubby, I always had a prejudice against all such Circassians, Greeks . . . Moors!"

"They are said to be terrible Don Juans."

"Perhaps! There are shameless creatures who . . . ."

Natalya Mihalovna suddenly jumped up from her chair, as though she had thought of something dreadful; for half a minute she looked with frightened eyes at her husband and said, accentuating each word:

"Vassitchka, I say, the im-mo-ral women there are in the world! Ah, how immoral! And it's not as though they were working-class or middle-class people, but aristocratic ladies, priding themselves on their bon-ton! It was simply awful, I could not believe my own eyes! I shall remember it as long as I live! To think that people can forget themselves to such a point as . . . ach, Vassitchka, I don't like to speak of it! Take my companion, Yulia Petrovna, for example. . . . Such a good husband, two children . . . she moves in a decent circle, always poses as a saint -- and all at once, would you believe it. . . . Only, hubby, of course this is entre nous. . . . Give me your word of honour you won't tell a soul?"

"What next! Of course I won't tell."

"Honour bright? Mind now! I trust you. . . ."

The little lady put down her fork, assumed a mysterious air, and whispered:

"Imagine a thing like this. . . . That Yulia Petrovna rode up into the mountains . . . . It was glorious weather! She rode on ahead with her guide, I was a little behind. We had ridden two or three miles, all at once, only fancy, Vassitchka, Yulia cried out and clutched at her bosom. Her Tatar put his arm round her waist or she would have fallen off the saddle. . . . I rode up to her with my guide. . . . 'What is it? What is the matter?' 'Oh,' she cried, 'I am dying! I feel faint! I can't go any further' Fancy my alarm! 'Let us go back then,' I said. 'No, Natalie,' she said, 'I can't go back! I shall die of pain if I move another step! I have spasms.' And she prayed and besought my Suleiman and me to ride back to the town and fetch her some of her drops which always do her good."

"Stay. . . . I don't quite understand you," muttered the husband, scratching his forehead. "You said just now that you had only seen those Tatars from a distance, and now you are talking of some Suleiman."

"There, you are finding fault again," the lady pouted, not in the least disconcerted. " I can't endure suspiciousness! I can't endure it! It's stupid, stupid!"

"I am not finding fault, but . . . why say what is not true? If you rode about with Tatars, so be it, God bless you, but . . . why shuffle about it?"

"H'm! . . . you are a queer one!" cried the lady, revolted. "He is jealous of Suleiman! as though one could ride up into the mountains without a guide! I should like to see you do it! If you don't know the ways there, if you don't understand, you had better hold your tongue! Yes, hold your tongue. You can't take a step there without a guide."

"So it seems!"

"None of your silly grins, if you please! I am not a Yulia. . . . I don't justify her but I . . . ! Though I don't pose as a saint, I don't forget myself to that degree. My Suleiman never overstepped the limits. . . . No-o! Mametkul used to be sitting at Yulia's all day long, but in my room as soon as it struck eleven: 'Suleiman, march! Off you go!' And my foolish Tatar boy would depart. I made him mind his p's and q's, hubby! As soon as he began grumbling about money or anything, I would say 'How? Wha-at? Wha-a-a-t?' And his heart would be in his mouth directly. . . . Ha-ha-ha! His eyes, you know, Vassitchka, were as black, as black, like coals, such an amusing little Tatar face, so funny and silly! I kept him in order, didn't I just!"

"I can fancy . . ." mumbled her husband, rolling up pellets of bread.

"That's stupid, Vassitchka! I know what is in your mind! I know what you are thinking . . . But I assure you even when we were on our expeditions I never let him overstep the limits. For instance, if we rode to the mountains or to the U-Chan-Su waterfall, I would always say to him, 'Suleiman, ride behind! Do you hear!' And he always rode behind, poor boy. . . . Even when we . . . even at the most dramatic moments I would say to him, 'Still, you must not forget that you are only a Tatar and I am the wife of a civil councillor!' Ha-ha. . . ."

The little lady laughed, then, looking round her quickly and assuming an alarmed expression, whispered:

But Yulia! Oh, that Yulia! I quite see, Vassitchka, there is no reason why one shouldn't have a little fun, a little rest from the emptiness of conventional life! That's all right, have your fling by all means -- no one will blame you, but to take the thing seriously, to get up scenes . . . no, say what you like, I cannot understand that! Just fancy, she was jealous! Wasn't that silly? One day Mametkul, her grande passion, came to see her . . . she was not at home. . . . Well, I asked him into my room . . . there was conversation, one thing and another . . . they're awfully amusing, you know! The evening passed without our noticing it. . . . All at once Yulia rushed in. . . . She flew at me and at Mametkul -- made such a scene . . . fi! I can't understand that sort of thing, Vassitchka."

Vassitchka cleared his throat, frowned, and walked up and down the room.

"You had a gay time there, I must say," he growled with a disdainful smile.

"How stu-upid that is!" cried Natalya Mihalovna, offended. "I know what you are thinking about! You always have such horrid ideas! I won't tell you anything! No, I won't!"

The lady pouted and said no more.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:29 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

A Trivial Incident

 

 

IT was a sunny August midday as, in company with a Russian prince who had come down in the world, I drove into the immense so-called Shabelsky pine-forest where we were intending to look for woodcocks. In virtue of the part he plays in this story my poor prince deserves a detailed description. He was a tall, dark man, still youngish, though already somewhat battered by life; with long moustaches like a police captain's; with prominent black eyes, and with the manners of a retired army man. He was a man of Oriental type, not very intelligent, but straightforward and honest, not a bully, not a fop, and not a rake -- virtues which, in the eyes of the general public, are equivalent to a certificate of being a nonentity and a poor creature. People generally did not like him (he was never spoken of in the district, except as "the illustrious duffer"). I personally found the poor prince extremely nice with his misfortunes and failures, which made up indeed his whole life. First of all he was poor. He did not play cards, did not drink, had no occupation, did not poke his nose into anything, and maintained a perpetual silence but yet he had somehow succeeded in getting through thirty to forty thousand roubles left him at his father's death. God only knows what had become of the money. All that I can say is that owing to lack of supervision a great deal was stolen by stewards, bailiffs, and even footmen; a great deal went on lending money, giving bail, and standing security. There were few landowners in the district who did not owe him money. He gave to all who asked, and not so much from good nature or confidence in people as from exaggerated gentlemanliness as though he would say: "Take it and feel how comme il faut I am!" By the time I made his acquaintance he had got into debt himself, had learned what it was like to have a second mortgage on his land, and had sunk so deeply into difficulties that there was no chance of his ever getting out of them again. There were days when he had no dinner, and went about with an empty cigar-holder, but he was always seen clean and fashionably dressed, and always smelt strongly of ylang-ylang.

The prince's second misfortune was his absolute solitariness. He was not married, he had no friends nor relations. His silent and reserved character and his comme il faut deportment, which became the more conspicuous the more anxious he was to conceal his poverty, prevented him from becoming intimate with people. For love affairs he was too heavy, spiritless, and cold, and so rarely got on with women. . . .

When we reached the forest this prince and I got out of the chaise and walked along a narrow woodland path which was hidden among huge ferns. But before we had gone a hundred paces a tall, lank figure with a long oval face, wearing a shabby reefer jacket, a straw hat, and patent leather boots, rose up from behind a young fir-tree some three feet high, as though he had sprung out of the ground. The stranger held in one hand a basket of mushrooms, with the other he playfully fingered a cheap watch-chain on his waistcoat. On seeing us he was taken aback, smoothed his waistcoat, coughed politely, and gave an agreeable smile, as though he were delighted to see such nice people as us. Then, to our complete surprise, he came up to us, scraping with his long feet on the grass, bending his whole person, and, still smiling agreeably, lifted his hat and pronounced in a sugary voice with the intonations of a whining dog:

"Aie, aie . . . gentlemen, painful as it is, it is my duty to warn you that shooting is forbidden in this wood. Pardon me for venturing to disturb you, though unacquainted, but . . . allow me to present myself. I am Grontovsky, the head clerk on Madame Kandurin's estate."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, but why can't we shoot?"

"Such is the wish of the owner of this forest!"

The prince and I exchanged glances. A moment passed in silence. The prince stood looking pensively at a big fly agaric at his feet, which he had crushed with his stick. Grontovsky went on smiling agreeably. His whole face was twitching, exuding honey, and even the watch-chain on his waistcoat seemed to be smiling and trying to impress us all with its refinement. A shade of embarrassment passed over us like an angel passing; all three of us felt awkward.

"Nonsense!" I said. "Only last week I was shooting here!"

"Very possible!" Grontovsky sniggered through his teeth. "As a matter of fact everyone shoots here regardless of the prohibition. But once I have met you, it is my duty . . . my sacred duty to warn you. I am a man in a dependent position. If the forest were mine, on the word of honour of a Grontovsky, I should not oppose your agreeable pleasure. But whose fault is it that I am in a dependent position?"

The lanky individual sighed and shrugged his shoulders. I began arguing, getting hot and protesting, but the more loudly and impressively I spoke the more mawkish and sugary Grontovsky's face became. Evidently the consciousness of a certain power over us afforded him the greatest gratification. He was enjoying his condescending tone, his politeness, his manners, and with peculiar relish pronounced his sonorous surname, of which he was probably very fond. Standing before us he felt more than at ease, but judging from the confused sideway glances he cast from time to time at his basket, only one thing was spoiling his satisfaction -- the mushrooms, womanish, peasantish, prose, derogatory to his dignity.

"We can't go back!" I said. "We have come over ten miles!"

"What's to be done?" sighed Grontovsky. "If you had come not ten but a hundred thousand miles, if the king even had come from America or from some other distant land, even then I should think it my duty . . . sacred, so to say, obligation . . ."

"Does the forest belong to Nadyezhda Lvovna?" asked the prince.

"Yes, Nadyezhda Lvovna . . ."

"Is she at home now?"

"Yes . . . I tell you what, you go to her, it is not more than half a mile from here; if she gives you a note, then I. . . . I needn't say! Ha -- ha . . . he -- he -- !"

"By all means," I agreed. "It's much nearer than to go back. . . . You go to her, Sergey Ivanitch," I said, addressing the prince. "You know her."

The prince, who had been gazing the whole time at the crushed agaric, raised his eyes to me, thought a minute, and said:

"I used to know her at one time, but . . . it's rather awkward for me to go to her. Besides, I am in shabby clothes. . . . You go, you don't know her. . . . It's more suitable for you to go."

I agreed. We got into our chaise and, followed by Grontovsky's smiles, drove along the edge of the forest to the manor house. I was not acquainted with Nadyezhda Lvovna Kandurin, née Shabelsky. I had never seen her at close quarters, and knew her only by hearsay. I knew that she was incredibly wealthy, richer than anyone else in the province. After the death of her father, Shabelsky, who was a landowner with no other children, she was left with several estates, a stud farm, and a lot of money. I had heard that, though she was only twenty-five or twenty-six, she was ugly, uninteresting, and as insignificant as anybody, and was only distinguished from the ordinary ladies of the district by her immense wealth.

It has always seemed to me that wealth is felt, and that the rich must have special feelings unknown to the poor. Often as I passed by Nadyezhda Lvovna's big fruit garden, in which stood the large, heavy house with its windows always curtained, I thought: "What is she thinking at this moment? Is there happiness behind those blinds?" and so on. Once I saw her from a distance in a fine light cabriolet, driving a handsome white horse, and, sinful man that I am, I not only envied her, but even thought that in her poses, in her movements, there was something special, not to be found in people who are not rich, just as persons of a servile nature succeed in discovering "good family" at the first glance in people of the most ordinary exterior, if they are a little more distinguished than themselves. Nadyezhda Lvovna's inner life was only known to me by scandal. It was said in the district that five or six years ago, before she was married, during her father's lifetime, she had been passionately in love with Prince Sergey Ivanitch, who was now beside me in the chaise. The prince had been fond of visiting her father, and used to spend whole days in his billiard room, where he played pyramids indefatigably till his arms and legs ached. Six months before the old man's death he had suddenly given up visiting the Shabelskys. The gossip of the district having no positive facts to go upon explained this abrupt change in their relations in various ways. Some said that the prince, having observed the plain daughter's feeling for him and being unable to reciprocate it, considered it the duty of a gentleman to cut short his visits. Others maintained that old Shabelsky had discovered why his daughter was pining away, and had proposed to the poverty-stricken prince that he should marry her; the prince, imagining in his narrow-minded way that they were trying to buy him together with his title, was indignant, said foolish things, and quarrelled with them. What was true and what was false in this nonsense was difficult to say. But that there was a portion of truth in it was evident, from the fact that the prince always avoided conversation about Nadyezhda Lvovna.

I knew that soon after her father's death Nadyezhda Lvovna had married one Kandurin, a bachelor of law, not wealthy, but adroit, who had come on a visit to the neighbourhood. She married him not from love, but because she was touched by the love of the legal gentleman who, so it was said, had cleverly played the love-sick swain. At the time I am describing, Kandurin was for some reason living in Cairo, and writing thence to his friend, the marshal of the district, "Notes of Travel," while she sat languishing behind lowered blinds, surrounded by idle parasites, and whiled away her dreary days in petty philanthropy.

On the way to the house the prince fell to talking.

"It's three days since I have been at home," he said in a half whisper, with a sidelong glance at the driver. "I am not a child, nor a silly woman, and I have no prejudices, but I can't stand the bailiffs. When I see a bailiff in my house I turn pale and tremble, and even have a twitching in the calves of my legs. Do you know Rogozhin refused to honour my note?"

The prince did not, as a rule, like to complain of his straitened circumstances; where poverty was concerned he was reserved and exceedingly proud and sensitive, and so this announcement surprised me. He stared a long time at the yellow clearing, warmed by the sun, watched a long string of cranes float in the azure sky, and turned facing me.

"And by the sixth of September I must have the money ready for the bank . . . the interest for my estate," he said aloud, by now regardless of the coachman. "And where am I to get it? Altogether, old man, I am in a tight fix! An awfully tight fix!"

The prince examined the cock of his gun, blew on it for some reason, and began looking for the cranes which by now were out of sight.

"Sergey Ivanitch," I asked, after a minute's silence, "imagine if they sell your Shatilovka, what will you do?"

"I? I don't know! Shatilovka can't be saved, that's clear as daylight, but I cannot imagine such a calamity. I can't imagine myself without my daily bread secure. What can I do? I have had hardly any education; I have not tried working yet; for government service it is late to begin, . . . Besides, where could I serve? Where could I be of use? Admitting that no great cleverness is needed for serving in our Zemstvo, for example, yet I suffer from . . . the devil knows what, a sort of faintheartedness, I haven't a ha'p'orth of pluck. If I went into the Service I should always feel I was not in my right place. I am not an idealist; I am not a Utopian; I haven't any special principles; but am simply, I suppose, stupid and thoroughly incompetent, a neurotic and a coward. Altogether not like other people. All other people are like other people, only I seem to be something . . . a poor thing. . . . I met Naryagin last Wednesday -- you know him? -- drunken, slovenly . . . doesn't pay his debts, stupid" (the prince frowned and tossed his head) . . . "a horrible person! He said to me, staggering: 'I'm being balloted for as a justice of the peace!' Of course, they won't elect him, but, you see, he believes he is fit to be a justice of the peace and considers that position within his capacity. He has boldness and self-confidence. I went to see our investigating magistrate too. The man gets two hundred and fifty roubles a month, and does scarcely anything. All he can do is to stride backwards and forwards for days together in nothing but his underclothes, but, ask him, he is convinced he is doing his work and honourably performing his duty. I couldn't go on like that! I should be ashamed to look the clerk in the face."

At that moment Grontovsky, on a chestnut horse, galloped by us with a flourish. On his left arm the basket bobbed up and down with the mushrooms dancing in it. As he passed us he grinned and waved his hand, as though we were old friends.

"Blockhead!" the prince filtered through his teeth, looking after him. "It's wonderful how disgusting it sometimes is to see satisfied faces. A stupid, animal feeling due to hunger, I expect. . . . What was I saying? Oh, yes, about going into the Service, . . . I should be ashamed to take the salary, and yet, to tell the truth, it is stupid. If one looks at it from a broader point of view, more seriously, I am eating what isn't mine now. Am I not? But why am I not ashamed of that. . . . It is a case of habit, I suppose . . . and not being able to realize one's true position. . . . But that position is most likely awful. . ."

I looked at him, wondering if the prince were showing off. But his face was mild and his eyes were mournfully following the movements of the chestnut horse racing away, as though his happiness were racing away with it.

Apparently he was in that mood of irritation and sadness when women weep quietly for no reason, and men feel a craving to complain of themselves, of life, of God. . . .

When I got out of the chaise at the gates of the house the prince said to me:

"A man once said, wanting to annoy me, that I have the face of a cardsharper. I have noticed that cardsharpers are usually dark. Do you know, it seems that if I really had been born a cardsharper I should have remained a decent person to the day of my death, for I should never have had the boldness to do wrong. I tell you frankly I have had the chance once in my life of getting rich if I had told a lie, a lie to myself and one woman . . . and one other person whom I know would have forgiven me for lying; I should have put into my pocket a million. But I could not. I hadn't the pluck!"

From the gates we had to go to the house through the copse by a long road, level as a ruler, and planted on each side with thick, lopped lilacs. The house looked somewhat heavy, tasteless, like a façade on the stage. It rose clumsily out of a mass of greenery, and caught the eye like a great stone thrown on the velvety turf. At the chief entrance I was met by a fat old footman in a green swallow-tail coat and big silver-rimmed spectacles; without making any announcement, only looking contemptuously at my dusty figure, he showed me in. As I mounted the soft carpeted stairs there was, for some reason, a strong smell of india-rubber. At the top I was enveloped in an atmosphere found only in museums, in signorial mansions and old-fashioned merchant houses; it seemed like the smell of something long past, which had once lived and died and had left its soul in the rooms. I passed through three or four rooms on my way from the entry to the drawing-room. I remember bright yellow, shining floors, lustres wrapped in stiff muslin, narrow, striped rugs which stretched not straight from door to door, as they usually do, but along the walls, so that not venturing to touch the bright floor with my muddy boots I had to describe a rectangle in each room. In the drawing-room, where the footman left me, stood old-fashioned ancestral furniture in white covers, shrouded in twilight. It looked surly and elderly, and, as though out of respect for its repose, not a sound was audible.

Even the clock was silent . . . it seemed as though the Princess Tarakanov had fallen asleep in the golden frame, and the water and the rats were still and motionless through magic. The daylight, afraid of disturbing the universal tranquillity, scarcely pierced through the lowered blinds, and lay on the soft rugs in pale, slumbering streaks.

Three minutes passed and a big, elderly woman in black, with her cheek bandaged up, walked noiselessly into the drawing-room. She bowed to me and pulled up the blinds. At once, enveloped in the bright sunlight, the rats and water in the picture came to life and movement, Princess Tarakanov was awakened, and the old chairs frowned gloomily.

"Her honour will be here in a minute, sir . . ." sighed the old lady, frowning too.

A few more minutes of waiting and I saw Nadyezhda Lvovna. What struck me first of all was that she certainly was ugly, short, scraggy, and round-shouldered. Her thick, chestnut hair was magnificent; her face, pure and with a look of culture in it, was aglow with youth; there was a clear and intelligent expression in her eyes; but the whole charm of her head was lost through the thickness of her lips and the over-acute facial angle.

I mentioned my name, and announced the object of my visit.

"I really don't know what I am to say!" she said, in hesitation, dropping her eyes and smiling. "I don't like to refuse, and at the same time. . . ."

"Do, please," I begged.

Nadyezhda Lvovna looked at me and laughed. I laughed too. She was probably amused by what Grontovsky had so enjoyed -- that is, the right of giving or withholding permission; my visit suddenly struck me as queer and strange.

"I don't like to break the long-established rules," said Madame Kandurin. "Shooting has been forbidden on our estate for the last six years. No!" she shook her head resolutely. "Excuse me, I must refuse you. If I allow you I must allow others. I don't like unfairness. Either let all or no one."

"I am sorry!" I sighed. "It's all the sadder because we have come more than ten miles. I am not alone," I added, "Prince Sergey Ivanitch is with me."

I uttered the prince's name with no arrière pensée, not prompted by any special motive or aim; I simply blurted it out without thinking, in the simplicity of my heart. Hearing the familiar name Madame Kandurin started, and bent a prolonged gaze upon me. I noticed her nose turn pale.

"That makes no difference . . ." she said, dropping her eyes.

As I talked to her I stood at the window that looked out on the shrubbery. I could see the whole shrubbery with the avenues and the ponds and the road by which I had come. At the end of the road, beyond the gates, the back of our chaise made a dark patch. Near the gate, with his back to the house, the prince was standing with his legs apart, talking to the lanky Grontovsky.

Madame Kandurin had been standing all the time at the other window. She looked from time to time towards the shrubbery, and from the moment I mentioned the prince's name she did not turn away from the window.

"Excuse me," she said, screwing up her eyes as she looked towards the road and the gate, "but it would be unfair to allow you only to shoot. . . . And, besides, what pleasure is there in shooting birds? What's it for? Are they in your way?"

A solitary life, immured within four walls, with its indoor twilight and heavy smell of decaying furniture, disposes people to sentimentality. Madame Kandurin's idea did her credit, but I could not resist saying:

"If one takes that line one ought to go barefoot. Boots are made out of the leather of slaughtered animals."

"One must distinguish between a necessity and a caprice," Madame Kandurin answered in a toneless voice.

She had by now recognized the prince, and did not take her eyes off his figure. It is hard to describe the delight and the suffering with which her ugly face was radiant! Her eyes were smiling and shining, her lips were quivering and laughing, while her face craned closer to the panes. Keeping hold of a flower-pot with both hands, with bated breath and with one foot slightly lifted, she reminded me of a dog pointing and waiting with passionate impatience for "Fetch it!"

I looked at her and at the prince who could not tell a lie once in his life, and I felt angry and bitter against truth and falsehood, which play such an elemental part in the personal happiness of men.

The prince started suddenly, took aim and fired. A hawk, flying over him, fluttered its wings and flew like an arrow far away.

"He aimed too high!" I said. "And so, Nadyezhda Lvovna," I sighed, moving away from the window, "you will not permit . . ." -- Madame Kandurin was silent.

"I have the honour to take my leave," I said, "and I beg you to forgive my disturbing you. . ."

Madame Kandurin would have turned facing me, and had already moved through a quarter of the angle, when she suddenly hid her face behind the hangings, as though she felt tears in her eyes that she wanted to conceal.

"Good-bye. . . . Forgive me . . ." she said softly.

I bowed to her back, and strode away across the bright yellow floors, no longer keeping to the carpet. I was glad to get away from this little domain of gilded boredom and sadness, and I hastened as though anxious to shake off a heavy, fantastic dream with its twilight, its enchanted princess, its lustres. . . .

At the front door a maidservant overtook me and thrust a note into my hand: "Shooting is permitted on showing this. N. K.," I read.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:27 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

In The Dark

 

 

A FLY of medium size made its way into the nose of the assistant procurator, Gagin. It may have been impelled by curiosity, or have got there through frivolity or accident in the dark; anyway, the nose resented the presence of a foreign body and gave the signal for a sneeze. Gagin sneezed, sneezed impressively and so shrilly and loudly that the bed shook and the springs creaked. Gagin's wife, Marya Mihalovna, a full, plump, fair woman, started, too, and woke up. She gazed into the darkness, sighed, and turned over on the other side. Five minutes afterwards she turned over again and shut her eyes more firmly but she could not get to sleep again. After sighing and tossing from side to side for a time, she got up, crept over her husband, and putting on her slippers, went to the window.

It was dark outside. She could see nothing but the outlines of the trees and the roof of the stables. There was a faint pallor in the east, but this pallor was beginning to be clouded over. There was perfect stillness in the air wrapped in slumber and darkness. Even the watchman, paid to disturb the stillness of night, was silent; even the corncrake -- the only wild creature of the feathered tribe that does not shun the proximity of summer visitors -- was silent.

The stillness was broken by Marya Mihalovna herself. Standing at the window and gazing into the yard, she suddenly uttered a cry. She fancied that from the flower garden with the gaunt, clipped poplar, a dark figure was creeping towards the house. For the first minute she thought it was a cow or a horse, then, rubbing her eyes, she distinguished clearly the outlines of a man.

Then she fancied the dark figure approached the window of the kitchen and, standing still a moment, apparently undecided, put one foot on the window ledge and disappeared into the darkness of the window.

"A burglar!" flashed into her mind and a deathly pallor overspread her face.

And in one instant her imagination had drawn the picture so dreaded by lady visitors in country places -- a burglar creeps into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the dining-room . . . the silver in the cupboard . . . next into the bedroom . . . an axe . . . the face of a brigand . . . jewelry. . . . Her knees gave way under her and a shiver ran down her back.

"Vassya!" she said, shaking her husband, "Basile! Vassily Prokovitch! Ah! mercy on us, he might be dead! Wake up, Basile, I beseech you!"

"W-well?" grunted the assistant procurator, with a deep inward breath and a munching sound.

"For God's sake, wake up! A burglar has got into the kitchen! I was standing at the window looking out and someone got in at the window. He will get into the dining-room next . . . the spoons are in the cupboard! Basile! They broke into Mavra Yegorovna's last year."

"Wha--what's the matter?"

"Heavens! he does not understand. Do listen, you stupid! I tell you I've just seen a man getting in at the kitchen window! Pelagea will be frightened and . . . and the silver is in the cupboard!"

"Stuff and nonsense!"

"Basile, this is unbearable! I tell you of a real danger and you sleep and grunt! What would you have? Would you have us robbed and murdered?"

The assistant procurator slowly got up and sat on the bed, filling the air with loud yawns.

"Goodness knows what creatures women are! he muttered. "Can't leave one in peace even at night! To wake a man for such nonsense!"

"But, Basile, I swear I saw a man getting in at the window!"

"Well, what of it? Let him get in. . . . That's pretty sure to be Pelagea's sweetheart, the fireman."

"What! what did you say?"

"I say it's Pelagea's fireman come to see her."

"Worse than ever!" shrieked Marya Mihalovna. "That's worse than a burglar! I won't put up with cynicism in my house!"

"Hoity-toity! We are virtuous! . . . Won't put up with cynicism? As though it were cynicism! What's the use of firing off those foreign words? My dear girl, it's a thing that has happened ever since the world began, sanctified by tradition. What's a fireman for if not to make love to the cook?"

"No, Basile! It seems you don't know me! I cannot face the idea of such a . . . such a . . . in my house. You must go this minute into the kitchen and tell him to go away! This very minute! And to-morrow I'll tell Pelagea that she must not dare to demean herself by such proceedings! When I am dead you may allow immorality in your house, but you shan't do it now! . . . Please go!"

"Damn it," grumbled Gagin, annoyed. "Consider with your microscopic female brain, what am I to go for?"

"Basile, I shall faint! . . ."

Gagin cursed, put on his slippers, cursed again, and set off to the kitchen. It was as dark as the inside of a barrel, and the assistant procurator had to feel his way. He groped his way to the door of the nursery and waked the nurse.

"Vassilissa," he said, "you took my dressing-gown to brush last night -- where is it?"

"I gave it to Pelagea to brush, sir."

"What carelessness! You take it away and don't put it back -- now I've to go without a dressing-gown!"

On reaching the kitchen, he made his way to the corner in which on a box under a shelf of saucepans the cook slept.

"Pelagea," he said, feeling her shoulder and giving it a shake, "Pelagea! Why are you pretending? You are not asleep! Who was it got in at your window just now?"

"Mm . . . m . . . good morning! Got in at the window? Who could get in?"

"Oh come, it's no use your trying to keep it up! You'd better tell your scamp to clear out while he can! Do you hear? He's no business to be here!"

"Are you out of your senses, sir, bless you? Do you think I'd be such a fool? Here one's running about all day long, never a minute to sit down and then spoken to like this at night! Four roubles a month . . . and to find my own tea and sugar and this is all the credit I get for it! I used to live in a tradesman's house, and never met with such insult there!"

"Come, come -- no need to go over your grievances! This very minute your grenadier must turn out! Do you understand?"

"You ought to be ashamed, sir," said Pelagea, and he could hear the tears in her voice. "Gentlefolks . . . educated, and yet not a notion that with our hard lot . . . in our life of toil" -- she burst into tears. "It's easy to insult us. There's no one to stand up for us."

"Come, come . . . I don't mind! Your mistress sent me. You may let a devil in at the window for all I care!"

There was nothing left for the assistant procurator but to acknowledge himself in the wrong and go back to his spouse.

"I say, Pelagea," he said, "you had my dressing-gown to brush. Where is it?"

"Oh, I am so sorry, sir; I forgot to put it on your chair. It's hanging on a peg near the stove."

Gagin felt for the dressing-gown by the stove, put it on, and went quietly back to his room.

When her husband went out Marya Mihalovna got into bed and waited. For the first three minutes her mind was at rest, but after that she began to feel uneasy.

"What a long time he's gone," she thought. "It's all right if he is there . . . that immoral man . . . but if it's a burglar?"

And again her imagination drew a picture of her husband going into the dark kitchen . . . a blow with an axe . . . dying without uttering a single sound . . . a pool of blood! . . .

Five minutes passed . . . five and a half . . . at last six. . . . A cold sweat came out on her forehead.

"Basile!" she shrieked, "Basile!"

"What are you shouting for? I am here." She heard her husband's voice and steps. "Are you being murdered?"

The assistant procurator went up to the bedstead and sat down on the edge of it.

"There's nobody there at all," he said. "It was your fancy, you queer creature. . . . You can sleep easy, your fool of a Pelagea is as virtuous as her mistress. What a coward you are! What a . . . ."

And the deputy procurator began teasing his wife. He was wide awake now and did not want to go to sleep again.

"You are a coward!" he laughed. "You'd better go to the doctor to-morrow and tell him about your hallucinations. You are a neurotic!"

"What a smell of tar," said his wife -- "tar or something . . . onion . . . cabbage soup!"

"Y-yes! There is a smell . . . I am not sleepy. I say, I'll light the candle. . . . Where are the matches? And, by the way, I'll show you the photograph of the procurator of the Palace of Justice. He gave us all a photograph when he said good-bye to us yesterday, with his autograph."

Gagin struck a match against the wall and lighted a candle. But before he had moved a step from the bed to fetch the photographs he heard behind him a piercing, heartrending shriek. Looking round, he saw his wife's large eyes fastened upon him, full of amazement, horror, and wrath. . . .

"You took your dressing-gown off in the kitchen?" she said, turning pale.

"Why?"

"Look at yourself!"

The deputy procurator looked down at himself, and gasped.

Flung over his shoulders was not his dressing-gown, but the fireman's overcoat. How had it come on his shoulders? While he was settling that question, his wife's imagination was drawing another picture, awful and impossible: darkness, stillness, whispering, and so on, and so on.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:23 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

The Juene Premier

 

 

YEVGENY ALEXEYITCH PODZHAROV, the jeune premier, a graceful, elegant young man with an oval face and little bags under his eyes, had come for the season to one of the southern towns of Russia, and tried at once to make the acquaintance of a few of the leading families of the place. "Yes, signor," he would often say, gracefully swinging his foot and displaying his red socks, "an artist ought to act upon the masses, both directly and indirectly; the first aim is attained by his work on the stage, the second by an acquaintance with the local inhabitants. On my honour, parole d'honneur, I don't understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with local families. Why is it? To say nothing of dinners, name-day parties, feasts, soirées fixes, to say nothing of these entertainments, think of the moral influence we may have on society! Is it not agreeable to feel one has dropped a spark in some thick skull? The types one meets! The women! Mon Dieu, what women! they turn one's head! One penetrates into some huge merchant's house, into the sacred retreats, and picks out some fresh and rosy little peach -- it's heaven, parole d'honneur!"

In the southern town, among other estimable families he made the acquaintance of that of a manufacturer called Zybaev. Whenever he remembers that acquaintance now he frowns contemptuously, screws up his eyes, and nervously plays with his watch-chain.

One day -- it was at a name-day party at Zybaev's -- the actor was sitting in his new friends' drawing-room and holding forth as usual. Around him "types" were sitting in armchairs and on the sofa, listening affably; from the next room came feminine laughter and the sounds of evening tea. . . . Crossing his legs, after each phrase sipping tea with rum in it, and trying to assume an expression of careless boredom, he talked of his stage triumphs.

"I am a provincial actor principally," he said, smiling condescendingly, "but I have played in Petersburg and Moscow too. . . . By the way, I will describe an incident which illustrates pretty well the state of mind of to-day. At my benefit in Moscow the young people brought me such a mass of laurel wreaths that I swear by all I hold sacred I did not know where to put them! Parole d'honneur! Later on, at a moment when funds were short, I took the laurel wreaths to the shop, and . . . guess what they weighed. Eighty pounds altogether. Ha, ha! you can't think how useful the money was. Artists, indeed, are often hard up. To-day I have hundreds, thousands, tomorrow nothing. . . . To-day I haven't a crust of bread, to-morrow I have oysters and anchovies, hang it all!"

The local inhabitants sipped their glasses decorously and listened. The well-pleased host, not knowing how to make enough of his cultured and interesting visitor, presented to him a distant relative who had just arrived, one Pavel Ignatyevitch Klimov, a bulky gentleman about forty, wearing a long frock-coat and very full trousers.

"You ought to know each other," said Zybaev as he presented Klimov; "he loves theatres, and at one time used to act himself. He has an estate in the Tula province."

Podzharov and Klimov got into conversation. It appeared, to the great satisfaction of both, that the Tula landowner lived in the very town in which the jeune premier had acted for two seasons in succession. Enquiries followed about the town, about common acquaintances, and about the theatre. . . .

"Do you know, I like that town awfully," said the jeune premier, displaying his red socks. "What streets, what a charming park, and what society! Delightful society!"

"Yes, delightful society," the landowner assented.

"A commercial town, but extremely cultured. . . . For instance, er-er-er . . . the head master of the high school, the public prosecutor . . . the officers. . . . The police captain, too, was not bad, a man, as the French say, enchanté, and the women, Allah, what women!"

"Yes, the women . . . certainly. . . ."

"Perhaps I am partial; the fact is that in your town, I don't know why, I was devilishly lucky with the fair sex! I could write a dozen novels. To take this episode, for instance. . . . I was staying in Yegoryevsky Street, in the very house where the Treasury is. . . ."

"The red house without stucco?"

"Yes, yes . . . without stucco. . . . Close by, as I remember now, lived a local beauty, Varenka. . . ."

"Not Varvara Nikolayevna?" asked Klimov, and he beamed with satisfaction. "She really is a beauty . . . the most beautiful girl in the town."

"The most beautiful girl in the town! A classic profile, great black eyes . . . . and hair to her waist! She saw me in 'Hamlet,' she wrote me a letter à la Pushkin's 'Tatyana.' . . . I answered, as you may guess. . . ."

Podzharov looked round, and having satisfied himself that there were no ladies in the room, rolled his eyes, smiled mournfully, and heaved a sigh.

"I came home one evening after a performance," he whispered, "and there she was, sitting on my sofa. There followed tears, protestations of love, kisses. . . . Oh, that was a marvellous, that was a divine night! Our romance lasted two months, but that night was never repeated. It was a night, parole d'honneur!Ê"

"Excuse me, what's that?" muttered Klimov, turning crimson and gazing open-eyed at the actor. "I know Varvara Nikolayevna well: she's my niece."

Podzharov was embarrassed, and he, too, opened his eyes wide.

"How's this?" Klimov went on, throwing up his hands. "I know the girl, and . . . and . . . I am surprised. . . ."

"I am very sorry this has come up," muttered the actor, getting up and rubbing something out of his left eye with his little finger. "Though, of course . . . of course, you as her uncle . . ."

The other guests, who had hitherto been listening to the actor with pleasure and rewarding him with smiles, were embarrassed and dropped their eyes.

"Please, do be so good . . . take your words back . . ." said Klimov in extreme embarrassment. "I beg you to do so!"

"If . . . er-er-er . . . it offends you, certainly," answered the actor, with an undefined movement of his hand.

"And confess you have told a falsehood."

"I, no . . . er-er-er. . . . It was not a lie, but I greatly regret having spoken too freely. . . . And, in fact . . . I don't understand your tone!"

Klimov walked up and down the room in silence, as though in uncertainty and hesitation. His fleshy face grew more and more crimson, and the veins in his neck swelled up. After walking up and down for about two minutes he went up to the actor and said in a tearful voice:

"No, do be so good as to confess that you told a lie about Varenka! Have the goodness to do so!"

"It's queer," said the actor, with a strained smile, shrugging his shoulders and swinging his leg. "This is positively insulting!"

"So you will not confess it?"

"I do-on't understand!"

"You will not? In that case, excuse me . . . I shall have to resort to unpleasant measures. Either, sir, I shall insult you at once on the spot, or . . . if you are an honourable man, you will kindly accept my challenge to a duel. . . . We will fight!"

"Certainly!" rapped out the jeune premier, with a contemptuous gesture. "Certainly."

Extremely perturbed, the guests and the host, not knowing what to do, drew Klimov aside and began begging him not to get up a scandal. Astonished feminine countenances appeared in the doorway. . . . The jeune premier turned round, said a few words, and with an air of being unable to remain in a house where he was insulted, took his cap and made off without saying good-bye.

On his way home the jeune premier smiled contemptuously and shrugged his shoulders, but when he reached his hotel room and stretched himself on his sofa he felt exceedingly uneasy.

"The devil take him!" he thought. "A duel does not matter, he won't kill me, but the trouble is the other fellows will hear of it, and they know perfectly well it was a yarn. It's abominable! I shall be disgraced all over Russia. . . ."

Podzharov thought a little, smoked, and to calm himself went out into the street.

"I ought to talk to this bully, ram into his stupid noddle that he is a blockhead and a fool, and that I am not in the least afraid of him. . . ."

The jeune premier stopped before Zybaev's house and looked at the windows. Lights were still burning behind the muslin curtains and figures were moving about.

"I'll wait for him!" the actor decided.

It was dark and cold. A hateful autumn rain was drizzling as though through a sieve. Podzharov leaned his elbow on a lamp-post and abandoned himself to a feeling of uneasiness.

He was wet through and exhausted.

At two o'clock in the night the guests began coming out of Zybaev's house. The landowner from Tula was the last to make his appearance. He heaved a sigh that could be heard by the whole street and scraped the pavement with his heavy overboots.

"Excuse me!" said the jeune premier, overtaking him. "One minute."

Klimov stopped. The actor gave a smile, hesitated, and began, stammering: "I . . . I confess . . . I told a lie."

"No, sir, you will please confess that publicly," said Klimov, and he turned crimson again. "I can't leave it like that. . . ."

"But you see I am apologizing! I beg you . . . don't you understand? I beg you because you will admit a duel will make talk, and I am in a position. . . . My fellow-actors . . . goodness knows what they may think. . . ."

The jeune premier tried to appear unconcerned, to smile, to stand erect, but his body would not obey him, his voice trembled, his eyes blinked guiltily, and his head drooped. For a good while he went on muttering something. Klimov listened to him, thought a little, and heaved a sigh.

"Well, so be it," he said. "May God forgive you. Only don't lie in future, young man. Nothing degrades a man like lying . . . yes, indeed! You are a young man, you have had a good education. . . ."

The landowner from Tula, in a benignant, fatherly way, gave him a lecture, while the jeune premier listened and smiled meekly. . . . When it was over he smirked, bowed, and with a guilty step and a crestfallen air set off for his hotel.

As he went to bed half an hour later he felt that he was out of danger and was already in excellent spirits. Serene and satisfied that the misunderstanding had ended so satisfactorily, he wrapped himself in the bedclothes, soon fell asleep, and slept soundly till ten o'clock next morning.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:21 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

The Dependents

 

 

MIHAIL PETROVITCH ZOTOV, a decrepit and solitary old man of seventy, belonging to the artisan class, was awakened by the cold and the aching in his old limbs. It was dark in his room, but the little lamp before the ikon was no longer burning. Zotov raised the curtain and looked out of the window. The clouds that shrouded the sky were beginning to show white here and there, and the air was becoming transparent, so it must have been nearly five, not more.

Zotov cleared his throat, coughed, and shrinking from the cold, got out of bed. In accordance with years of habit, he stood for a long time before the ikon, saying his prayers. He repeated "Our Father," "Hail Mary," the Creed, and mentioned a long string of names. To whom those names belonged he had forgotten years ago, and he only repeated them from habit. From habit, too, he swept his room and entry, and set his fat little four-legged copper samovar. If Zotov had not had these habits he would not have known how to occupy his old age.

The little samovar slowly began to get hot, and all at once, unexpectedly, broke into a tremulous bass hum.

"Oh, you've started humming!" grumbled Zotov. "Hum away then, and bad luck to you!"

At that point the old man appropriately recalled that, in the preceding night, he had dreamed of a stove, and to dream of a stove is a sign of sorrow.

Dreams and omens were the only things left that could rouse him to reflection; and on this occasion he plunged with a special zest into the considerations of the questions: What the samovar was humming for? and what sorrow was foretold by the stove? The dream seemed to come true from the first. Zotov rinsed out his teapot and was about to make his tea, when he found there was not one teaspoonful left in the box.

"What an existence!" he grumbled, rolling crumbs of black bread round in his mouth. "It's a dog's life. No tea! And it isn't as though I were a simple peasant: I'm an artisan and a house-owner. The disgrace!"

Grumbling and talking to himself, Zotov put on his overcoat, which was like a crinoline, and, thrusting his feet into huge clumsy golosh-boots (made in the year 1867 by a bootmaker called Prohoritch), went out into the yard. The air was grey, cold, and sullenly still. The big yard, full of tufts of burdock and strewn with yellow leaves, was faintly silvered with autumn frost. Not a breath of wind nor a sound. The old man sat down on the steps of his slanting porch, and at once there happened what happened regularly every morning: his dog Lyska, a big, mangy, decrepit-looking, white yard-dog, with black patches, came up to him with its right eye shut. Lyska came up timidly, wriggling in a frightened way, as though her paws were not touching the earth but a hot stove, and the whole of her wretched figure was expressive of abjectness. Zotov pretended not to notice her, but when she faintly wagged her tail, and, wriggling as before, licked his golosh, he stamped his foot angrily.

"Be off! The plague take you!" he cried. "Con-found-ed bea-east!"

Lyska moved aside, sat down, and fixed her solitary eye upon her master.

"You devils!" he went on. "You are the last straw on my back, you Herods."

And he looked with hatred at his shed with its crooked, overgrown roof; there from the door of the shed a big horse's head was looking out at him. Probably flattered by its master's attention, the head moved, pushed forward, and there emerged from the shed the whole horse, as decrepit as Lyska, as timid and as crushed, with spindly legs, grey hair, a pinched stomach, and a bony spine. He came out of the shed and stood still, hesitating as though overcome with embarrassment.

"Plague take you," Zotov went on. "Shall I ever see the last of you, you jail-bird Pharaohs! . . . I wager you want your breakfast!" he jeered, twisting his angry face into a contemptuous smile. "By all means, this minute! A priceless steed like you must have your fill of the best oats! Pray begin! This minute! And I have something to give to the magnificent, valuable dog! If a precious dog like you does not care for bread, you can have meat."

Zotov grumbled for half an hour, growing more and more irritated. In the end, unable to control the anger that boiled up in him, he jumped up, stamped with his goloshes, and growled out to be heard all over the yard:

"I am not obliged to feed you, you loafers! I am not some millionaire for you to eat me out of house and home! I have nothing to eat myself, you cursed carcases, the cholera take you! I get no pleasure or profit out of you; nothing but trouble and ruin, Why don't you give up the ghost? Are you such personages that even death won't take you? You can live, damn you! but I don't want to feed you! I have had enough of you! I don't want to!"

Zotov grew wrathful and indignant, and the horse and the dog listened. Whether these two dependents understood that they were being reproached for living at his expense, I don't know, but their stomachs looked more pinched than ever, and their whole figures shrivelled up, grew gloomier and more abject than before. . . . Their submissive air exasperated Zotov more than ever.

"Get away!" he shouted, overcome by a sort of inspiration. "Out of my house! Don't let me set eyes on you again! I am not obliged to keep all sorts of rubbish in my yard! Get away!"

The old man moved with little hurried steps to the gate, opened it, and picking up a stick from the ground, began driving out his dependents. The horse shook its head, moved its shoulder-blades, and limped to the gate; the dog followed him. Both of them went out into the street, and, after walking some twenty paces, stopped at the fence.

"I'll give it you!" Zotov threatened them.

When he had driven out his dependents he felt calmer, and began sweeping the yard. From time to time he peeped out into the street: the horse and the dog were standing like posts by the fence, looking dejectedly towards the gate.

"Try how you can do without me," muttered the old man, feeling as though a weight of anger were being lifted from his heart. "Let somebody else look after you now! I am stingy and ill-tempered. . . . It's nasty living with me, so you try living with other people. . . . Yes. . . ."

After enjoying the crushed expression of his dependents, and grumbling to his heart's content, Zotov went out of the yard, and, assuming a ferocious air, shouted:

"Well, why are you standing there? Whom are you waiting for? Standing right across the middle of the road and preventing the public from passing! Go into the yard!"

The horse and the dog with drooping heads and a guilty air turned towards the gate. Lyska, probably feeling she did not deserve forgiveness, whined piteously.

"Stay you can, but as for food, you'll get nothing from me! You may die, for all I care!"

Meanwhile the sun began to break through the morning mist; its slanting rays gilded over the autumn frost. There was a sound of steps and voices. Zotov put back the broom in its place, and went out of the yard to see his crony and neighbour, Mark Ivanitch, who kept a little general shop. On reaching his friend's shop, he sat down on a folding-stool, sighed sedately, stroked his beard, and began about the weather. From the weather the friends passed to the new deacon, from the deacon to the choristers; and the conversation lengthened out. They did not notice as they talked how time was passing, and when the shop-boy brought in a big teapot of boiling water, and the friends proceeded to drink tea, the time flew as quickly as a bird. Zotov got warm and felt more cheerful.

"I have a favour to ask of you, Mark Ivanitch," he began, after the sixth glass, drumming on the counter with his fingers. "If you would just be so kind as to give me a gallon of oats again to-day. . . ."

From behind the big tea-chest behind which Mark Ivanitch was sitting came the sound of a deep sigh.

"Do be so good," Zotov went on; "never mind tea -- don't give it me to-day, but let me have some oats. . . . I am ashamed to ask you, I have wearied you with my poverty, but the horse is hungry."

"I can give it you," sighed the friend -- "why not? But why the devil do you keep those carcases? -- tfoo! -- Tell me that, please. It would be all right if it were a useful horse, but -- tfoo! -- one is ashamed to look at it. . . . And the dog's nothing but a skeleton! Why the devil do you keep them?"

"What am I to do with them?"

"You know. Take them to Ignat the slaughterer -- that is all there is to do. They ought to have been there long ago. It's the proper place for them."

"To be sure, that is so! . . . I dare say! . . ."

"You live like a beggar and keep animals," the friend went on. "I don't grudge the oats. . . . God bless you. But as to the future, brother . . . I can't afford to give regularly every day! There is no end to your poverty! One gives and gives, and one doesn't know when there will be an end to it all."

The friend sighed and stroked his red face.

"If you were dead that would settle it," he said. "You go on living, and you don't know what for. . . . Yes, indeed! But if it is not the Lord's will for you to die, you had better go somewhere into an almshouse or a refuge."

"What for? I have relations. I have a great-niece. . . ."

And Zotov began telling at great length of his great-niece Glasha, daughter of his niece Katerina, who lived somewhere on a farm.

"She is bound to keep me!" he said. "My house will be left to her, so let her keep me; I'll go to her. It's Glasha, you know . . . Katya's daughter; and Katya, you know, was my brother Panteley's stepdaughter. . . . You understand? The house will come to her. . . . Let her keep me!"

"To be sure; rather than live, as you do, a beggar, I should have gone to her long ago."

"I will go! As God's above, I will go. It's her duty."

When an hour later the old friends were drinking a glass of vodka, Zotov stood in the middle of the shop and said with enthusiasm:

"I have been meaning to go to her for a long time; I will go this very day."

"To be sure; rather than hanging about and dying of hunger, you ought to have gone to the farm long ago."

"I'll go at once! When I get there, I shall say: Take my house, but keep me and treat me with respect. It's your duty! If you don't care to, then there is neither my house, nor my blessing for you! Good-bye, Ivanitch!"

Zotov drank another glass, and, inspired by the new idea, hurried home. The vodka had upset him and his head was reeling, but instead of lying down, he put all his clothes together in a bundle, said a prayer, took his stick, and went out. Muttering and tapping on the stones with his stick, he walked the whole length of the street without looking back, and found himself in the open country. It was eight or nine miles to the farm. He walked along the dry road, looked at the town herd lazily munching the yellow grass, and pondered on the abrupt change in his life which he had only just brought about so resolutely. He thought, too, about his dependents. When he went out of the house, he had not locked the gate, and so had left them free to go whither they would.

He had not gone a mile into the country when he heard steps behind him. He looked round and angrily clasped his hands. The horse and Lyska, with their heads drooping and their tails between their legs, were quietly walking after him.

"Go back!" he waved to them.

They stopped, looked at one another, looked at him. He went on, they followed him. Then he stopped and began ruminating. It was impossible to go to his great-niece Glasha, whom he hardly knew, with these creatures; he did not want to go back and shut them up, and, indeed, he could not shut them up, because the gate was no use.

"To die of hunger in the shed," thought Zotov. "Hadn't I really better take them to Ignat?"

Ignat's hut stood on the town pasture-ground, a hundred paces from the flagstaff. Though he had not quite made up his mind, and did not know what to do, he turned towards it. His head was giddy and there was a darkness before his eyes. . . .

He remembers little of what happened in the slaughterer's yard. He has a memory of a sickening, heavy smell of hides and the savoury steam of the cabbage-soup Ignat was sipping when he went in to him. As in a dream he saw Ignat, who made him wait two hours, slowly preparing something, changing his clothes, talking to some women about corrosive sublimate; he remembered the horse was put into a stand, after which there was the sound of two dull thuds, one of a blow on the skull, the other of the fall of a heavy body. When Lyska, seeing the death of her friend, flew at Ignat, barking shrilly, there was the sound of a third blow that cut short the bark abruptly. Further, Zotov remembers that in his drunken foolishness, seeing the two corpses, he went up to the stand, and put his own forehead ready for a blow.

And all that day his eyes were dimmed by a haze, and he could not even see his own fingers.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:19 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Talent

 

 

AN artist called Yegor Savvitch, who was spending his summer holidays at the house of an officer's widow, was sitting on his bed, given up to the depression of morning. It was beginning to look like autumn out of doors. Heavy, clumsy clouds covered the sky in thick layers; there was a cold, piercing wind, and with a plaintive wail the trees were all bending on one side. He could see the yellow leaves whirling round in the air and on the earth. Farewell, summer! This melancholy of nature is beautiful and poetical in its own way, when it is looked at with the eyes of an artist, but Yegor Savvitch was in no humour to see beauty. He was devoured by ennui and his only consolation was the thought that by to-morrow he would not be there. The bed, the chairs, the tables, the floor, were all heaped up with cushions, crumpled bed-clothes, boxes. The floor had not been swept, the cotton curtains had been taken down from the windows. Next day he was moving, to town.

His landlady, the widow, was out. She had gone off somewhere to hire horses and carts to move next day to town. Profiting by the absence of her severe mamma, her daughter Katya, aged twenty, had for a long time been sitting in the young man's room. Next day the painter was going away, and she had a great deal to say to him. She kept talking, talking, and yet she felt that she had not said a tenth of what she wanted to say. With her eyes full of tears, she gazed at his shaggy head, gazed at it with rapture and sadness. And Yegor Savvitch was shaggy to a hideous extent, so that he looked like a wild animal. His hair hung down to his shoulder-blades, his beard grew from his neck, from his nostrils, from his ears; his eyes were lost under his thick overhanging brows. It was all so thick, so matted, that if a fly or a beetle had been caught in his hair, it would never have found its way out of this enchanted thicket. Yegor Savvitch listened to Katya, yawning. He was tired. When Katya began whimpering, he looked severely at her from his overhanging eyebrows, frowned, and said in a heavy, deep bass:

"I cannot marry."

"Why not?" Katya asked softly.

"Because for a painter, and in fact any man who lives for art, marriage is out of the question. An artist must be free."

"But in what way should I hinder you, Yegor Savvitch?"

"I am not speaking of myself, I am speaking in general. . . . Famous authors and painters have never married."

"And you, too, will be famous -- I understand that perfectly. But put yourself in my place. I am afraid of my mother. She is stern and irritable. When she knows that you won't marry me, and that it's all nothing . . . she'll begin to give it to me. Oh, how wretched I am! And you haven't paid for your rooms, either! . . . ."

"Damn her! I'll pay."

Yegor Savvitch got up and began walking to and fro.

"I ought to be abroad!" he said. And the artist told her that nothing was easier than to go abroad. One need do nothing but paint a picture and sell it.

"Of course!" Katya assented. "Why haven't you painted one in the summer?"

"Do you suppose I can work in a barn like this?" the artist said ill-humouredly. "And where should I get models?"

Some one banged the door viciously in the storey below. Katya, who was expecting her mother's return from minute to minute, jumped up and ran away. The artist was left alone. For a long time he walked to and fro, threading his way between the chairs and the piles of untidy objects of all sorts. He heard the widow rattling the crockery and loudly abusing the peasants who had asked her two roubles for each cart. In his disgust Yegor Savvitch stopped before the cupboard and stared for a long while, frowning at the decanter of vodka.

"Ah, blast you!" he heard the widow railing at Katya. "Damnation take you!"

The artist drank a glass of vodka, and the dark cloud in his soul gradually disappeared, and he felt as though all his inside was smiling within him. He began dreaming. . . . His fancy pictured how he would become great. He could not imagine his future works but he could see distinctly how the papers would talk of him, how the shops would sell his photographs, with what envy his friends would look after him. He tried to picture himself in a magnificent drawing-room surrounded by pretty and adoring women; but the picture was misty, vague, as he had never in his life seen a drawing-room. The pretty and adoring women were not a success either, for, except Katya, he knew no adoring woman, not even one respectable girl. People who know nothing about life usually picture life from books, but Yegor Savvitch knew no books either. He had tried to read Gogol, but had fallen asleep on the second page.

"It won't burn, drat the thing!" the widow bawled down below, as she set the samovar. "Katya, give me some charcoal!"

The dreamy artist felt a longing to share his hopes and dreams with some one. He went downstairs into the kitchen, where the stout widow and Katya were busy about a dirty stove in the midst of charcoal fumes from the samovar. There he sat down on a bench close to a big pot and began:

"It's a fine thing to be an artist! I can go just where I like, do what I like. One has not to work in an office or in the fields. I've no superiors or officers over me. . . . I'm my own superior. And with all that I'm doing good to humanity!"

And after dinner he composed himself for a " rest." He usually slept till the twilight of evening. But this time soon after dinner he felt that some one was pulling at his leg. Some one kept laughing and shouting his name. He opened his eyes and saw his friend Ukleikin, the landscape painter, who had been away all the summer in the Kostroma district.

"Bah!" he cried, delighted. "What do I see?"

There followed handshakes, questions.

"Well, have you brought anything? I suppose you've knocked off hundreds of sketches?" said Yegor Savvitch, watching Ukleikin taking his belongings out of his trunk.

"H'm! . . . Yes. I have done something. And how are you getting on? Have you been painting anything?"

Yegor Savvitch dived behind the bed, and crimson in the face, extracted a canvas in a frame covered with dust and spider webs.

"See here. . . . A girl at the window after parting from her betrothed. In three sittings. Not nearly finished yet."

The picture represented Katya faintly outlined sitting at an open window, from which could be seen a garden and lilac distance. Ukleikin did not like the picture.

"H'm! . . . There is air and . . . and there is expression," he said. "There's a feeling of distance, but . . . but that bush is screaming . . . screaming horribly!"

The decanter was brought on to the scene.

Towards evening Kostyliov, also a promising beginner, an historical painter, came in to see Yegor Savvitch. He was a friend staying at the next villa, and was a man of five-and-thirty. He had long hair, and wore a blouse with a Shakespeare collar, and had a dignified manner. Seeing the vodka, he frowned, complained of his chest, but yielding to his friends' entreaties, drank a glass.

"I've thought of a subject, my friends," he began, getting drunk. "I want to paint some new . . . Herod or Clepentian, or some blackguard of that description, you understand, and to contrast with him the idea of Christianity. On the one side Rome, you understand, and on the other Christianity. . . . I want to represent the spirit, you understand? The spirit!"

And the widow downstairs shouted continually:

"Katya, give me the cucumbers! Go to Sidorov's and get some kvass, you jade!"

Like wolves in a cage, the three friends kept pacing to and fro from one end of the room to the other. They talked without ceasing, talked, hotly and genuinely; all three were excited, carried away. To listen to them it would seem they had the future, fame, money, in their hands. And it never occurred to either of them that time was passing, that every day life was nearing its close, that they had lived at other people's expense a great deal and nothing yet was accomplished; that they were all bound by the inexorable law by which of a hundred promising beginners only two or three rise to any position and all the others draw blanks in the lottery, perish playing the part of flesh for the cannon. . . . They were gay and happy, and looked the future boldly in the face!

At one o'clock in the morning Kostyliov said good-bye, and smoothing out his Shakespeare collar, went home. The landscape painter remained to sleep at Yegor Savvitch's. Before going to bed, Yegor Savvitch took a candle and made his way into the kitchen to get a drink of water. In the dark, narrow passage Katya was sitting, on a box, and, with her hands clasped on her knees, was looking upwards. A blissful smile was straying on her pale, exhausted face, and her eyes were beaming.

"Is that you? What are you thinking about?" Yegor Savvitch asked her.

"I am thinking of how you'll be famous," she said in a half-whisper. "I keep fancying how you'll become a famous man. . . . I overheard all your talk. . . . I keep dreaming and dreaming. . . ."

Katya went off into a happy laugh, cried, and laid her hands reverently on her idol's shoulders.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:18 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

The First-class Passenger

 

 

A FIRST-CLASS passenger who had just dined at the station and drunk a little too much lay down on the velvet-covered seat, stretched himself out luxuriously, and sank into a doze. After a nap of no more than five minutes, he looked with oily eyes at his vis-à-vis, gave a smirk, and said:

"My father of blessed memory used to like to have his heels tickled by peasant women after dinner. I am just like him, with this difference, that after dinner I always like my tongue and my brains gently stimulated. Sinful man as I am, I like empty talk on a full stomach. Will you allow me to have a chat with you?"

"I shall be delighted," answered the vis-à-vis.

"After a good dinner the most trifling subject is sufficient to arouse devilishly great thoughts in my brain. For instance, we saw just now near the refreshment bar two young men, and you heard one congratulate the other on being celebrated. 'I congratulate you,' he said; 'you are already a celebrity and are beginning to win fame.' Evidently actors or journalists of microscopic dimensions. But they are not the point. The question that is occupying my mind at the moment, sir, is exactly what is to be understood by the word fame or celebrity. What do you think? Pushkin called fame a bright patch on a ragged garment; we all understand it as Pushkin does -- that is, more or less subjectively -- but no one has yet given a clear, logical definition of the word. . . . I would give a good deal for such a definition!"

"Why do you feel such a need for it?"

"You see, if we knew what fame is, the means of attaining it might also perhaps be known to us," said the first-class passenger, after a moment's thought. I must tell you, sir, that when I was younger I strove after celebrity with every fiber of my being. To be popular was my craze, so to speak. For the sake of it I studied, worked, sat up at night, neglected my meals. And I fancy, as far as I can judge without partiality, I had all the natural gifts for attaining it. To begin with, I am an engineer by profession. In the course of my life I have built in Russia some two dozen magnificent bridges, I have laid aqueducts for three towns; I have worked in Russia, in England, in Belgium. . . . Secondly, I am the author of several special treatises in my own line. And thirdly, my dear sir, I have from a boy had a weakness for chemistry. Studying that science in my leisure hours, I discovered methods of obtaining certain organic acids, so that you will find my name in all the foreign manuals of chemistry. I have always been in the service, I have risen to the grade of actual civil councilor, and I have an unblemished record. I will not fatigue your attention by enumerating my works and my merits, I will only say that I have done far more than some celebrities. And yet here I am in my old age, I am getting ready for my coffin, so to say, and I am as celebrated as that black dog yonder running on the embankment."

"How can you tell? Perhaps you are celebrated."

"H'm! Well, we will test it at once. Tell me, have you ever heard the name Krikunov?"

The vis-à-vis raised his eyes to the ceiling, thought a minute, and laughed.

"No, I haven't heard it, . . ." he said.

"That is my surname. You, a man of education, getting on in years, have never heard of me -- a convincing proof! It is evident that in my efforts to gain fame I have not done the right thing at all: I did not know the right way to set to work, and, trying to catch fame by the tail, got on the wrong side of her."

"What is the right way to set to work?"

"Well, the devil only knows! Talent, you say? Genius? Originality? Not a bit of it, sir!. . . People have lived and made a career side by side with me who were worthless, trivial, and even contemptible compared with me. They did not do one-tenth of the work I did, did not put themselves out, were not distinguished for their talents, and did not make an effort to be celebrated, but just look at them! Their names are continually in the newspapers and on men's lips! If you are not tired of listening I will illustrate it by an example. Some years ago I built a bridge in the town of K. I must tell you that the dullness of that scurvy little town was terrible. If it had not been for women and cards I believe I should have gone out of my mind. Well, it's an old story: I was so bored that I got into an affair with a singer. Everyone was enthusiastic about her, the devil only knows why; to my thinking she was -- what shall I say? -- an ordinary, commonplace creature, like lots of others. The hussy was empty-headed, ill-tempered, greedy, and what's more, she was a fool.

"She ate and drank a vast amount, slept till five o clock in the afternoon -- and I fancy did nothing else. She was looked upon as a cocotte, and that was indeed her profession; but when people wanted to refer to her in a literary fashion, they called her an actress and a singer. I used to be devoted to the theatre, and therefore this fraudulent pretense of being an actress made me furiously indignant. My young lady had not the slightest right to call herself an actress or a singer. She was a creature entirely devoid of talent, devoid of feeling -- a pitiful creature one may say. As far as I can judge she sang disgustingly. The whole charm of her 'art' lay in her kicking up her legs on every suitable occasion, and not being embarrassed when people walked into her dressing-room. She usually selected translated vaudevilles, with singing in them, and opportunities for disporting herself in male attire, in tights. In fact it was -- ough! Well, I ask your attention. As I remember now, a public ceremony took place to celebrate the opening of the newly constructed bridge. There was a religious service, there were speeches, telegrams, and so on. I hung about my cherished creation, you know, all the while afraid that my heart would burst with the excitement of an author. Its an old story and there's no need for false modesty, and so I will tell you that my bridge was a magnificent work! It was not a bridge but a picture, a perfect delight! And who would not have been excited when the whole town came to the opening? 'Oh,' I thought, 'now the eyes of all the public will be on me! Where shall I hide myself?' Well, I need not have worried myself, sir -- alas! Except the official personages, no one took the slightest notice of me. They stood in a crowd on the river-bank, gazed like sheep at the bridge, and did not concern themselves to know who had built it. And it was from that time, by the way, that I began to hate our estimable public -- damnation take them! Well, to continue. All at once the public became agitated; a whisper ran through the crowd, . . . a smile came on their faces, their shoulders began to move. 'They must have seen me,' I thought. A likely idea! I looked, and my singer, with a train of young scamps, was making her way through the crowd. The eyes of the crowd were hurriedly following this procession. A whisper began in a thousand voices: 'That's so-and-so. . . . Charming! Bewitching!' Then it was they noticed me. . . . A couple of young milksops, local amateurs of the scenic art, I presume, looked at me, exchanged glances, and whispered: 'That's her lover!' How do you like that? And an unprepossessing individual in a top-hat, with a chin that badly needed shaving, hung round me, shifting from one foot to the other, then turned to me with the words:

"'Do you know who that lady is, walking on the other bank? That's so-and-so. . . . Her voice is beneath all criticism, but she has a most perfect mastery of it! . . .'

" 'Can you tell me,' I asked the unprepossessing individual, 'who built this bridge?'

" 'I really don't know,' answered the individual; some engineer, I expect.'

" 'And who built the cathedral in your town?' I asked again.

" 'I really can't tell you.'

"Then I asked him who was considered the best teacher in K., who the best architect, and to all my questions the unprepossessing individual answered that he did not know.

" 'And tell me, please,' I asked in conclusion, with whom is that singer living?'

" 'With some engineer called Krikunov.'

"Well, how do you like that, sir? But to proceed. There are no minnesingers or bards nowadays, and celebrity is created almost exclusively by the newspapers. The day after the dedication of the bridge, I greedily snatched up the local Messenger, and looked for myself in it. I spent a long time running my eyes over all the four pages, and at last there it was -- hurrah! I began reading: 'Yesterday in beautiful weather, before a vast concourse of people, in the presence of His Excellency the Governor of the province, so-and-so, and other dignitaries, the ceremony of the dedication of the newly constructed bridge took place,' and so on. . . . Towards the end: Our talented actress so-and-so, the favorite of the K. public, was present at the dedication looking very beautiful. I need not say that her arrival created a sensation. The star was wearing . . .' and so on. They might have given me one word! Half a word. Petty as it seems, I actually cried with vexation!

"I consoled myself with the reflection that the provinces are stupid, and one could expect nothing of them and for celebrity one must go to the intellectual centers -- to Petersburg and to Moscow. And as it happened, at that very time there was a work of mine in Petersburg which I had sent in for a competition. The date on which the result was to be declared was at hand.

"I took leave of K. and went to Petersburg. It is a long journey from K. to Petersburg, and that I might not be bored on the journey I took a reserved compartment and -- well -- of course, I took my singer. We set off, and all the way we were eating, drinking champagne, and -- tra-la--la! But behold, at last we reach the intellectual center. I arrived on the very day the result was declared, and had the satisfaction, my dear sir, of celebrating my own success: my work received the first prize. Hurrah! Next day I went out along the Nevsky and spent seventy kopecks on various newspapers. I hastened to my hotel room, lay down on the sofa, and, controlling a quiver of excitement, made haste to read. I ran through one newspaper -- nothing. I ran through a second -- nothing either; my God! At last, in the fourth, I lighted upon the following paragraph: 'Yesterday the well-known provincial actress so-and-so arrived by express in Petersburg. We note with pleasure that the climate of the South has had a beneficial effect on our fair friend; her charming stage appearance. . .' and I don't remember the rest! Much lower down than that paragraph I found, printed in the smallest type: first prize in the competition was adjudged to an engineer called so-and-so.' That was all! And to make things better, they even misspelt my name: instead of Krikunov it was Kirkutlov. So much for your intellectual center! But that was not all. . . . By the time I left Petersburg, a month later, all the newspapers were vying with one another in discussing our incomparable, divine, highly talented actress, and my mistress was referred to, not by her surname, but by her Christian name and her father's. . . .

"Some years later I was in Moscow. I was summoned there by a letter, in the mayor's own handwriting, to undertake a work for which Moscow, in its newspapers, had been clamoring for over a hundred years. In the intervals of my work I delivered five public lectures, with a philanthropic object, in one of the museums there. One would have thought that was enough to make one known to the whole town for three days at least, wouldn't one? But, alas! not a single Moscow gazette said a word about me There was something about houses on fire, about an operetta, sleeping town councilors, drunken shop keepers -- about everything; but about my work, my plans, my lectures -- mum. And a nice set they are in Moscow! I got into a tram. . . . It was packed full; there were ladies and military men and students of both sexes, creatures of all sorts in couples.

" 'I am told the town council has sent for an engineer to plan such and such a work!' I said to my neighbor, so loudly that all the tram could hear. 'Do you know the name of the engineer?'

"My neighbor shook his head. The rest of the public took a cursory glance at me, and in all their eyes I read: 'I don't know.'

" 'I am told that there is someone giving lectures in such and such a museum?' I persisted, trying to get up a conversation. 'I hear it is interesting.'

"No one even nodded. Evidently they had not all of them heard of the lectures, and the ladies were not even aware of the existence of the museum. All that would not have mattered, but imagine, my dear sir, the people suddenly leaped to their feet and struggled to the windows. What was it? What was the matter?

" 'Look, look!' my neighbor nudged me. 'Do you see that dark man getting into that cab? That's the famous runner, King!'

"And the whole tram began talking breathlessly of the runner who was then absorbing the brains of Moscow.

"I could give you ever so many other examples, but I think that is enough. Now let us assume that I am mistaken about myself, that I am a wretchedly boastful and incompetent person; but apart from myself I might point to many of my contemporaries, men remarkable for their talent and industry, who have nevertheless died unrecognized. Are Russian navigators, chemists, physicists, mechanicians, and agriculturists popular with the public? Do our cultivated masses know anything of Russian artists, sculptors, and literary men? Some old literary hack, hard-working and talented, will wear away the doorstep of the publishers' offices for thirty-three years, cover reams of paper, be had up for libel twenty times, and yet not step beyond his ant-heap. Can you mention to me a single representative of our literature who would have become celebrated if the rumor had not been spread over the earth that he had been killed in a duel, gone out of his mind, been sent into exile, or had cheated at cards?"

The first-class passenger was so excited that he dropped his cigar out of his mouth and got up.

"Yes," he went on fiercely, "and side by side with these people I can quote you hundreds of all sorts of singers, acrobats, buffoons, whose names are known to every baby. Yes!"

The door creaked, there was a draught, and an individual of forbidding aspect, wearing an Inverness coat, a top-hat, and blue spectacles, walked into the carriage. The individual looked round at the seats, frowned, and went on further.

"Do you know who that is?" there came a timid whisper from the furthest corner of the compartment.

That is N. N., the famous Tula cardsharper who was had up in connection with the Y. bank affair."

"There you are!" laughed the first-class passenger. He knows a Tula cardsharper, but ask him whether he knows Semiradsky, Tchaykovsky, or Solovyov the philosopher -- he'll shake his head. . . . It swinish!"

Three minutes passed in silence.

"Allow me in my turn to ask you a question," said the vis-à-vis timidly, clearing his throat. Do you know the name of Pushkov?"

"Pushkov? H'm! Pushkov. . . . No, I don't know it!"

"That is my name,. . ." said the vis-à-vis,, overcome with embarrassment. "Then you don't know it? And yet I have been a professor at one of the Russian universities for thirty-five years, . . . a member of the Academy of Sciences, . . . have published more than one work. . . ."

The first-class passenger and the vis-à-vis looked at each other and burst out laughing.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:17 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

Martyrs

 

 

LIZOTCHKA KUDRINSKY, a young married lady who had many admirers, was suddenly taken ill, and so seriously that her husband did not go to his office, and a telegram was sent to her mamma at Tver. This is how she told the story of her illness:

"I went to Lyesnoe to auntie's. I stayed there a week and then I went with all the rest to cousin Varya's. Varya's husband is a surly brute and a despot (I'd shoot a husband like that), but we had a very jolly time there. To begin with I took part in some private theatricals. It was A Scandal in a Respectable Family. Hrustalev acted marvellously! Between the acts I drank some cold, awfully cold, lemon squash, with the tiniest nip of brandy in it. Lemon squash with brandy in it is very much like champagne. . . . I drank it and I felt nothing. Next day after the performance I rode out on horseback with that Adolf Ivanitch. It was rather damp and there was a strong wind. It was most likely then that I caught cold. Three days later I came home to see how my dear, good Vassya was getting on, and while here to get my silk dress, the one that has little flowers on it. Vassya, of course, I did not find at home. I went into the kitchen to tell Praskovya to set the samovar, and there I saw on the table some pretty little carrots and turnips like playthings. I ate one little carrot and well, a turnip too. I ate very little, but only fancy, I began having a sharp pain at once -- spasms . . . spasms . . . spasms . . . ah, I am dying. Vassya runs from the office. Naturally he clutches at his hair and turns white. They run for the doctor. . . . Do you understand, I am dying, dying."

The spasms began at midday, before three o'clock the doctor came, and at six Lizotchka fell asleep and slept soundly till two o'clock in the morning.

It strikes two. . . . The light of the little night lamp filters scantily through the pale blue shade. Lizotchka is lying in bed, her white lace cap stands out sharply against the dark background of the red cushion. Shadows from the blue lamp-shade lie in patterns on her pale face and her round plump shoulders. Vassily Stepanovitch is sitting at her feet. The poor fellow is happy that his wife is at home at last, and at the same time he is terribly alarmed by her illness.

"Well, how do you feel, Lizotchka?" he asks in a whisper, noticing that she is awake.

"I am better," moans Lizotchka. "I don't feel the spasms now, but there is no sleeping. . . . I can't get to sleep!"

"Isn't it time to change the compress, my angel?"

Lizotchka sits up slowly with the expression of a martyr and gracefully turns her head on one side. Vassily Stepanovitch with reverent awe, scarcely touching her hot body with his fingers, changes the compress. Lizotchka shrinks, laughs at the cold water which tickles her, and lies down again.

"You are getting no sleep, poor boy!" she moans.

"As though I could sleep!"

"It's my nerves, Vassya, I am a very nervous woman. The doctor has prescribed for stomach trouble, but I feel that he doesn't understand my illness. It's nerves and not the stomach, I swear that it is my nerves. There is only one thing I am afraid of, that my illness may take a bad turn."

"No, Lizotchka, no, to-morrow you will be all right!"

"Hardly likely! I am not afraid for myself. . . . I don't care, indeed, I shall be glad to die, but I am sorry for you! You'll be a widower and left all alone."

Vassitchka rarely enjoys his wife's society, and has long been used to solitude, but Lizotchka's words agitate him.

"Goodness knows what you are saying, little woman! Why these gloomy thoughts?"

"Well, you will cry and grieve, and then you will get used to it. You'll even get married again."

The husband clutches his head.

"There, there, I won't!" Lizotchka soothes him, "only you ought to be prepared for anything."

"And all of a sudden I shall die," she thinks, shutting her eyes.

And Lizotchka draws a mental picture of her own death, how her mother, her husband, her cousin Varya with her husband, her relations, the admirers of her "talent" press round her death bed, as she whispers her last farewell. All are weeping. Then when she is dead they dress her, interestingly pale and dark-haired, in a pink dress (it suits her) and lay her in a very expensive coffin on gold legs, full of flowers. There is a smell of incense, the candles splutter. Her husband never leaves the coffin, while the admirers of her talent cannot take their eyes off her, and say: "As though living! She is lovely in her coffin!" The whole town is talking of the life cut short so prematurely. But now they are carrying her to the church. The bearers are Ivan Petrovitch, Adolf Ivanitch, Varya's husband, Nikolay Semyonitch, and the black-eyed student who had taught her to drink lemon squash with brandy. It's only a pity there's no music playing. After the burial service comes the leave-taking. The church is full of sobs, they bring the lid with tassels, and . . . Lizotchka is shut off from the light of day for ever, there is the sound of hammering nails. Knock, knock, knock.

Lizotchka shudders and opens her eyes.

"Vassya, are you here?" she asks. "I have such gloomy thoughts. Goodness, why am I so unlucky as not to sleep. Vassya, have pity, do tell me something!"

"What shall I tell you ?"

"Something about love," Lizotchka says languidly. "Or some anecdote about Jews. . . ."

Vassily Stepanovitch, ready for anything if only his wife will be cheerful and not talk about death, combs locks of hair over his ears, makes an absurd face, and goes up to Lizotchka.

"Does your vatch vant mending?" he asks.

"It does, it does," giggles Lizotchka, and hands him her gold watch from the little table. "Mend it."

Vassya takes the watch, examines the mechanism for a long time, and wriggling and shrugging, says: "She can not be mended . . . in vun veel two cogs are vanting. . . ."

This is the whole performance. Lizotchka laughs and claps her hands.

"Capital," she exclaims. "Wonderful. Do you know, Vassya, it's awfully stupid of you not to take part in amateur theatricals! You have a remarkable talent! You are much better than Sysunov. There was an amateur called Sysunov who played with us in It's My Birthday. A first-class comic talent, only fancy: a nose as thick as a parsnip, green eyes, and he walks like a crane. . . . We all roared; stay, I will show you how he walks."

Lizotchka springs out of bed and begins pacing about the floor, barefooted and without her cap.

"A very good day to you!" she says in a bass, imitating a man's voice. "Anything pretty? Anything new under the moon? Ha, ha, ha!" she laughs.

"Ha, ha, ha!" Vassya seconds her. And the young pair, roaring with laughter, forgetting the illness, chase one another about the room. The race ends in Vassya's catching his wife by her nightgown and eagerly showering kisses upon her. After one particularly passionate embrace Lizotchka suddenly remembers that she is seriously ill. . . .

"What silliness!" she says, making a serious face and covering herself with the quilt. "I suppose you have forgotten that I am ill! Clever, I must say!"

"Sorry . . ." falters her husband in confusion.

"If my illness takes a bad turn it will be your fault. Not kind! not good!"

Lizotchka closes her eyes and is silent. Her former languor and expression of martyrdom return again, there is a sound of gentle moans. Vassya changes the compress, and glad that his wife is at home and not gadding off to her aunt's, sits meekly at her feet. He does not sleep all night. At ten o'clock the doctor comes.

"Well, how are we feeling?" he asks as he takes her pulse. "Have you slept?"

"Badly," Lizotchka's husband answers for her, "very badly."

The doctor walks away to the window and stares at a passing chimney-sweep.

"Doctor, may I have coffee to-day?" asks Lizotchka.

"You may."

"And may I get up?"

"You might, perhaps, but . . . you had better lie in bed another day."

"She is awfully depressed," Vassya whispers in his ear, "such gloomy thoughts, such pessimism. I am dreadfully uneasy about her."

The doctor sits down to the little table, and rubbing his forehead, prescribes bromide of potassium for Lizotchka, then makes his bow, and promising to look in again in the evening, departs. Vassya does not go to the office, but sits all day at his wife's feet.

At midday the admirers of her talent arrive in a crowd. They are agitated and alarmed, they bring masses of flowers and French novels. Lizotchka, in a snow-white cap and a light dressing jacket, lies in bed with an enigmatic look, as though she did not believe in her own recovery. The admirers of her talent see her husband, but readily forgive his presence: they and he are united by one calamity at that bedside!

At six o'clock in the evening Lizotchka falls asleep, and again sleeps till two o'clock in the morning. Vassya as before sits at her feet, struggles with drowsiness, changes her compress, plays at being a Jew, and in the morning after a second night of suffering, Liza is prinking before the looking-glass and putting on her hat.

"Wherever are you going, my dear?" asks Vassya, with an imploring look at her.

"What?" says Lizotchka in wonder, assuming a scared expression, "don't you know that there is a rehearsal to-day at Marya Lvovna's?"

After escorting her there, Vassya having nothing to do to while away his boredom, takes his portfolio and goes to the office. His head aches so violently from his sleepless nights that his left eye shuts of itself and refuses to open. . . .

"What's the matter with you, my good sir?" his chief asks him. "What is it?"

Vassy a waves his hand and sits down.

"Don't ask me, your Excellency," he says with a sigh. "What I have suffered in these two days, what I have suffered! Liza has been ill!"

"Good heavens," cried his chief in alarm. "Lizaveta Pavlovna, what is wrong with her?"

Vassily Stepanovitch merely throws up his hands and raises his eyes to the ceiling, as though he would say: "It's the will of Providence."

"Ah, my boy, I can sympathise with you with all my heart!" sighs his chief, rolling his eyes. "I've lost my wife, my dear, I understand. That is a loss, it is a loss! It's awful, awful! I hope Lizaveta Pavlovna is better now! What doctor is attending her ?"

"Von Schterk."

"Von Schterk! But you would have been better to have called in Magnus or Semandritsky. But how very pale your face is. You are ill yourself! This is awful!"

"Yes, your Excellency, I haven't slept. What I have suffered, what I have been through!"

"And yet you came! Why you came I can't understand? One can't force oneself like that! One mustn't do oneself harm like that. Go home and stay there till you are well again! Go home, I command you! Zeal is a very fine thing in a young official, but you mustn't forget as the Romans used to say: 'mens sana in corpore sano,' that is, a healthy brain in a healthy body."

Vassya agrees, puts his papers back in his portfolio, and, taking leave of his chief, goes home to bed.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:15 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

A Pink Stocking

 

 

DULL, rainy day. The sky is completely covered with heavy clouds, and there is no prospect of the rain ceasing. Outside sleet, puddles, and drenched jackdaws. Indoors it is half dark, and so cold that one wants the stove heated.

Pavel Petrovitch Somov is pacing up and down his study, grumbling at the weather. The tears of rain on the windows and the darkness of the room make him depressed. He is insufferably bored and has nothing to do. . . . The newspapers have not been brought yet; shooting is out of the question, and it is not nearly dinner-time. . . .

Somov is not alone in his study. Madame Somov, a pretty little lady in a light blouse and pink stockings, is sitting at his writing table. She is eagerly scribbling a letter. Every time he passes her as he strides up and down, Ivan Petrovitch looks over her shoulder at what she is writing. He sees big sprawling letters, thin and narrow, with all sorts of tails and flourishes. There are numbers of blots, smears, and finger-marks. Madame Somov does not like ruled paper, and every line runs downhill with horrid wriggles as it reaches the margin. . . .

"Lidotchka, who is it you are writing such a lot to?" Somov inquires, seeing that his wife is just beginning to scribble the sixth page.

"To sister Varya."

"Hm . . . it's a long letter! I'm so bored -- let me read it!"

"Here, you may read it, but there's nothing interesting in it."

Somov takes the written pages and, still pacing up and down, begins reading. Lidotchka leans her elbows on the back of her chair and watches the expression of his face. . . . After the first page his face lengthens and an expression of something almost like panic comes into it. . . . At the third page Somov frowns and scratches the back of his head. At the fourth he pauses, looks with a scared face at his wife, and seems to ponder. After thinking a little, he takes up the letter again with a sigh. . . . His face betrays perplexity and even alarm. . . ."

"Well, this is beyond anything!" he mutters, as he finishes reading the letter and flings the sheets on the table, "It's positively incredible!"

"What's the matter?" asks Lidotchka, flustered.

"What's the matter! You've covered six pages, wasted a good two hours scribbling, and there's nothing in it at all! If there were one tiny idea! One reads on and on, and one's brain is as muddled as though one were deciphering the Chinese wriggles on tea chests! Ough!"

"Yes, that's true, Vanya, . . ." says Lidotchka, reddening. "I wrote it carelessly. . . ."

"Queer sort of carelessness! In a careless letter there is some meaning and style -- there is sense in it -- while yours . . . excuse me, but I don't know what to call it! It's absolute twaddle! There are words and sentences, but not the slightest sense in them. Your whole letter is exactly like the conversation of two boys: 'We had pancakes to-day! And we had a soldier come to see us!' You say the same thing over and over again! You drag it out, repeat yourself. . . . The wretched ideas dance about like devils: there's no making out where anything begins, where anything ends. . . . How can you write like that?"

"If I had been writing carefully," Lidotchka says in self defence, "then there would not have been mistakes. . . ."

"Oh, I'm not talking about mistakes! The awful grammatical howlers! There's not a line that's not a personal insult to grammar! No stops nor commas -- and the spelling . . . brrr! 'Earth' has an a in it!! And the writing! It's desperate! I'm not joking, Lida. . . . I'm surprised and appalled at your letter. . . . You mustn't be angry, darling, but, really, I had no idea you were such a duffer at grammar. . . . And yet you belong to a cultivated, well-educated circle: you are the wife of a University man, and the daughter of a general! Tell me, did you ever go to school?"

"What next! I finished at the Von Mebke's boarding school. . . ."

Somov shrugs his shoulders and continues to pace up and down, sighing. Lidotchka, conscious of her ignorance and ashamed of it, sighs too and casts down her eyes. . . . Ten minutes pass in silence.

"You know, Lidotchka, it really is awful!" says Somov, suddenly halting in front of her and looking into her face with horror. "You are a mother . . . do you understand? A mother! How can you teach your children if you know nothing yourself? You have a good brain, but what's the use of it if you have never mastered the very rudiments of knowledge? There -- never mind about knowledge . . . the children will get that at school, but, you know, you are very shaky on the moral side too! You sometimes use such language that it makes my ears tingle!"

Somov shrugs his shoulders again, wraps himself in the folds of his dressing-gown and continues his pacing. . . . He feels vexed and injured, and at the same time sorry for Lidotchka, who does not protest, but merely blinks. . . . Both feel oppressed and miserable. . . . Absorbed in their woes, they do not notice how time is passing and the dinner hour is approaching.

Sitting down to dinner, Somov, who is fond of good eating and of eating in peace, drinks a large glass of vodka and begins talking about something else. Lidotchka listens and assents, but suddenly over the soup her eyes fill with tears and she begins whimpering.

"It's all mother's fault!" she says, wiping away her tears with her dinner napkin. "Everyone advised her to send me to the high school, and from the high school I should have been sure to go on to the University!"

"University . . . high school," mutters Somov. "That's running to extremes, my girl! What's the good of being a blue stocking! A blue stocking is the very deuce! Neither man nor woman, but just something midway: neither one thing nor another. . . I hate blue stockings! I would never have married a learned woman. . . ."

"There's no making you out . . .," says Lidotchka. "You are angry because I am not learned, and at the same time you hate learned women; you are annoyed because I have no ideas in my letter, and yet you yourself are opposed to my studying. . . ."

"You do catch me up at a word, my dear," yawns Somov, pouring out a second glass of vodka in his boredom.

Under the influence of vodka and a good dinner, Somov grows more good-humoured, lively, and soft. . . . He watches his pretty wife making the salad with an anxious face and a rush of affection for her, of indulgence and forgiveness comes over him.

"It was stupid of me to depress her, poor girl . . . ," he thought. "Why did I say such a lot of dreadful things? She is silly, that's true, uncivilised and narrow; but . . . there are two sides to the question, and audiatur et altera pars. . . . Perhaps people are perfectly right when they say that woman's shallowness rests on her very vocation. Granted that it is her vocation to love her husband, to bear children, and to mix salad, what the devil does she want with learning? No, indeed!"

At that point he remembers that learned women are usually tedious, that they are exacting, strict, and unyielding; and, on the other hand, how easy it is to get on with silly Lidotchka, who never pokes her nose into anything, does not understand so much, and never obtrudes her criticism. There is peace and comfort with Lidotchka, and no risk of being interfered with.

"Confound them, those clever and learned women! It's better and easier to live with simple ones," he thinks, as he takes a plate of chicken from Lidotchka.

He recollects that a civilised man sometimes feels a desire to talk and share his thoughts with a clever and well-educated woman. "What of it?" thinks Somov. "If I want to talk of intellectual subjects, I'll go to Natalya Andreyevna . . . or to Marya Frantsovna. . . . It's very simple! But no, I shan't go. One can discuss intellectual subjects with men," he finally decides.

[ بیست و هشتم اسفند 1386 ] [ 2:12 ] [ جمال پاریاب ]

A Misfortune

 

 

SOFYA PETROVNA, the wife of Lubyantsev the notary, a handsome young woman of five-and-twenty, was walking slowly along a track that had been cleared in the wood, with Ilyin, a lawyer who was spending the summer in the neighbourhood. It was five o'clock in the evening. Feathery-white masses of cloud stood overhead; patches of bright blue sky peeped out between them. The clouds stood motionless, as though they had caught in the tops of the tall old pine-trees. It was still and sultry.

Farther on, the track was crossed by a low railway embankment on which a sentinel with a gun was for some reason pacing up and down. Just beyond the embankment there was a large white church with six domes and a rusty roof.

"I did not expect to meet you here," said Sofya Petrovna, looking at the ground and prodding at the last year's leaves with the tip of her parasol, "and now I am glad we have met. I want to speak to you seriously and once for all. I beg you, Ivan Mihalovitch, if you really love and respect me, please make an end of this pursuit of me! You follow me about like a shadow, you are continually looking at me not in a nice way, making love to me, writing me strange letters, and . . . and I don't know where it's all going to end! Why, what can come of it?"

Ilyin said nothing. Sofya Petrovna walked on a few steps and continued:

"And this complete transformation in you all came about in the course of two or three weeks, after five years' friendship. I don't know you, Ivan Mihalovitch!"

Sofya Petrovna stole a glance at her companion. Screwing up his eyes, he was looking intently at the fluffy clouds. His face looked angry, ill-humoured, and preoccupied, like that of a man in pain forced to listen to nonsense.

"I wonder you don't see it yourself," Madame Lubyantsev went on, shrugging her shoulders. "You ought to realize that it's not a very nice part you are playing. I am married; I love and respect my husband. . . . I have a daughter . . . . Can you think all that means nothing? Besides, as an old friend you know my attitude to family life and my views as to the sanctity of marriage."

Ilyin cleared his throat angrily and heaved a sigh.

"Sanctity of marriage . . ." he muttered. "Oh, Lord!"

Yes, yes. . . . I love my husband, I respect him; and in any case I value the peace of my home. I would rather let myself be killed than be a cause of unhappiness to Andrey and his daughter. . . . And I beg you, Ivan Mihalovitch, for God's sake, leave me in peace! Let us be as good, true friends as we used to be, and give up these sighs and groans, which really don't suit you. It's settled and over! Not a word more about it. Let us talk of something else."

Sofya Petrovna again stole a glance at Ilyin's face. Ilyin was looking up; he was pale, and was angrily biting his quivering lips. She could not understand why he was angry and why he was indignant, but his pallor touched her.

"Don't be angry; let us be friends," she said affectionately. "Agreed? Here's my hand."

Ilyin took her plump little hand in both of his, squeezed it, and slowly raised it to his lips.

"I am not a schoolboy," he muttered. "I am not in the least tempted by friendship with the woman I love."

"Enough, enough! It's settled and done with. We have reached the seat; let us sit down."

Sofya Petrovna's soul was filled with a sweet sense of relief: the most difficult and delicate thing had been said, the painful question was settled and done with. Now she could breathe freely and look Ilyin straight in the face. She looked at him, and the egoistic feeling of the superiority of the woman over the man who loves her, agreeably flattered her. It pleased her to see this huge, strong man, with his manly, angry face and his big black beard -- clever, cultivated, and, people said, talented -- sit down obediently beside her and bow his head dejectedly. For two or three minutes they sat without speaking.

"Nothing is settled or done with," began Ilyin. "You repeat copy-book maxims to me. 'I love and respect my husband . . . the sanctity of marriage. . . .' I know all that without your help, and I could tell you more, too. I tell you truthfully and honestly that I consider the way I am behaving as criminal and immoral. What more can one say than that? But what's the good of saying what everybody knows? Instead of feeding nightingales with paltry words, you had much better tell me what I am to do."

"I've told you already -- go away."

"As you know perfectly well, I have gone away five times, and every time I turned back on the way. I can show you my through tickets -- I've kept them all. I have not will enough to run away from you! I am struggling. I am struggling horribly; but what the devil am I good for if I have no backbone, if I am weak, cowardly! I can't struggle with Nature! Do you understand? I cannot! I run away from here, and she holds on to me and pulls me back. Contemptible, loathsome weakness!"

Ilyin flushed crimson, got up, and walked up and down by the seat.

"I feel as cross as a dog," he muttered, clenching his fists. "I hate and despise myself! My God! like some depraved schoolboy, I am making love to another man's wife, writing idiotic letters, degrading myself . . . ugh!"

Ilyin clutched at his head, grunted, and sat down. "And then your insincerity!" he went on bitterly. "If you do dislike my disgusting behaviour, why have you come here? What drew you here? In my letters I only ask you for a direct, definite answer -- yes or no; but instead of a direct answer, you contrive every day these 'chance' meetings with me and regale me with copy-book maxims!"

Madame Lubyantsev was frightened and flushed. She suddenly felt the awkwardness which a decent woman feels when she is accidentally discovered undressed.

"You seem to suspect I am playing with you," she muttered. "I have always given you a direct answer, and . . . only today I've begged you . . ."

"Ough! as though one begged in such cases! If you were to say straight out 'Get away,' I should have been gone long ago; but you've never said that. You've never once given me a direct answer. Strange indecision! Yes, indeed; either you are playing with me, or else . . ."

Ilyin leaned his head on his fists without finishing. Sofya Petrovna began going over in her own mind the way she had behaved from beginning to end. She remembered that not only in her actions, but even in her secret thoughts, she had always been opposed to Ilyin's love-making; but yet she felt there was a grain of truth in the lawyer's words. But not knowing exactly what the truth was, she could not find answers to make to Ilyin's complaint, however hard she thought. It was awkward to be silent, and, shrugging her shoulders, she said:

So I am to blame, it appears."

"I don't blame you for your insincerity," sighed Ilyin. "I did not mean that when I spoke of it. . . . Your insincerity is natural and in the order of things. If people agreed together and suddenly became sincere, everything would go to the devil."

Sofya Petrovna was in no mood for philosophical reflections, but she was glad of a chance to change the conversation, and asked:

"But why?"

"Because only savage women and animals are sincere. Once civilization has introduced a demand for such comforts as, for instance, feminine virtue, sincerity is out of place. . . ."

Ilyin jabbed his stick angrily into the sand. Madame Lubyantsev listened to him and liked his conversation, though a great deal of it she did not understand. What gratified her most was that she, an ordinary woman, was talked to by a talented man on "intellectual" subjects; it afforded her great pleasure, too, to watch the working of his mobile, young face, which was still pale and angry. She failed to understand a great deal that he said, but what was clear to her in his words was the attractive boldness with which the modern man without hesitation or doubt decides great questions and draws conclusive deductions.

She suddenly realized that she was admiring him, and was alarmed.

"Forgive me, but I don't understand," she said hurriedly. "What makes you talk of insincerity? I repeat my request again: be my good, true friend; let me alone! I beg you most earnestly!"

"Very good; I'll try again," sighed Ilyin. "Glad to do my best. . . . Only I doubt whether anything will come of my efforts. Either I shall put a bullet through my brains or take to drink in an idiotic way. I shall come to a bad end! There's a limit to everything -- to struggles with Nature, too. Tell me, how can one struggle against madness? If you drink wine, how are you to struggle against intoxication? What am I to do if your image has grown into my soul, and day and night stands persistently before my eyes, like that pine there at this moment? Come, tell me, what hard and difficult thing can I do to get free from this abominable, miserable condition, in which all my thoughts, desires, and dreams are no longer my own, but belong to some demon who has taken possession of me? I love you, love you so much that I am completely thrown out of gear; I've given up my work and all who are dear to me; I've forgotten my God! I've never been in love like this in my life."

Sofya Petrovna, who had not expected such a turn to their conversation, drew away from Ilyin and looked into his face in dismay. Tears came into his eyes, his lips were quivering, and there was an imploring, hungry expression in his face.

"I love you!" he muttered, bringing his eyes near her big, frightened eyes. "You are so beautiful! I am in agony now, but I swear I would sit here all my life, suffering and looking in your eyes. But . . . be silent, I implore you!"

Sofya Petrovna, feeling utterly disconcerted, tried to think as quickly as possible of something to say to stop him. "I'll go away," she decided, but before she had time to make a movement to get up, Ilyin was on his knees before her. . . . He was clasping her knees, gazing into her face and speaking passionately, hotly, eloquently. In her terror and confusion she did not hear his words; for some reason now, at this dangerous moment, while her knees were being agreeably squeezed and felt as though they were in a warm bath, she was trying, with a sort of angry spite, to interpret her own sensations. She was angry that instead of brimming over with protesting virtue, she was entirely overwhelmed with weakness, apathy, and emptiness, like a drunken man utterly reckless; only at the bottom of her soul a remote bit of herself was malignantly taunting her: "Why don't you go? Is this as it should be? Yes?"

Seeking for some explanation, she could not understand how it was she did not pull away the hand to which Ilyin was clinging like a leech, and why, like Ilyin, she hastily glanced to right and to left to see whether any one was looking. The clouds and the pines stood motionless, looking at them severely, like old ushers seeing mischief, but bribed not to tell the school authorities. The sentry stood like a post on the embankment and seemed to be looking at the seat.

"Let him look," thought Sofya Petrovna.

"But . . . but listen," she said at last, with despair in her voice. "What can come of this? What will be the end of this?"

"I don't know, I don't know," he whispered, waving off the disagreeable questions.

They heard the hoarse, discordant whistle of the train. This cold, irrelevant sound from the everyday world of prose made Sofya Petrovna rouse herself.

"I can't stay . . . it's time I was at home," she said, getting up quickly. "The train is coming in. . . Andrey is coming by it! He will want his dinner."

Sofya Petrovna turned towards the embankment with a burning face. The engine slowly crawled by, then came the carriages. It was not the local train, as she had supposed, but a goods train. The trucks filed by against the background of the white church in a long string like the days of a man's life, and it seemed as though it would never end.

But at last the train passed, and the last carriage with the guard and a light in it had disappeared behind the trees. Sofya Petrovna turned round sharply, and without looking at Ilyin, walked rapidly back along the track. She had regained her self-possession. Crimson with shame, humiliated not by Ilyin -- no, but by her own cowardice, by the shamelessness with which she, a chaste and high-principled woman, had allowed a man, not her husband, to hug her knees -- she had only one thought now: to get home as quickly as possible to her villa, to her family. The lawyer could hardly keep pace with her. Turning from the clearing into a narrow path, she turned round and glanced at him so quickly that she saw nothing but the sand on his knees, and waved to him to drop behind.

Reaching home, Sofya Petrovna stood in the middle of her room for five minutes without moving, and looked first at the window and then at her writing-table.

"You low creature!" she said, upbraiding herself. "You low creature!"

To spite herself, she recalled in precise detail, keeping nothing back -- she recalled that though all this time she had been opposed to Ilyin's lovemaking, something had impelled her to seek an interview with him; and what was more, when he was at her feet she had enjoyed it enormously. She recalled it all without sparing herself, and now, breathless with shame, she would have liked to slap herself in the face.

"Poor Andrey!" she said to herself, trying as she thought of her husband to put into her face as tender an expression as she could. "Varya, my poor little girl, doesn't know what a mother she has! Forgive me, my dear ones! I love you so much . . . so much!"

And anxious to prove to herself that she was still a good wife and mother, and that corruption had not yet touched that "sanctity of marriage" of which she had spoken to Ilyin, Sofya Petrovna ran to the kitchen and abused the cook for not having yet laid the table for Andrey Ilyitch. She tried to picture her husband's hungry and exhausted appearance, commiserated him aloud, and laid the table for him with her own hands, which she had never done before. Then she found her daughter Varya, picked her up in her arms and hugged her warmly; the child seemed to her cold and heavy, but she was unwilling to acknowledge this to herself, and she began explaining to the child how good, kind, and honourable her papa was.

But when Andrey Ilyitch arrived soon afterwards she hardly greeted him. The rush of false feeling had already passed off without proving anything to her, only irritating and exasperating her by its falsity. She was sitting by the window, feeling miserable and cross. It is only by being in trouble that people can understand how far from easy it is to be the master of one's feelings and thoughts. Sofya Petrovna said afterwards that there was a tangle within her which it was as difficult to unravel as to count a flock of sparrows rapidly flying by. From the fact that she was not overjoyed to see her husband, that she did not like his manner at dinner, she concluded all of a sudden that she was beginning to hate her husband

Andrey Ilyitch, languid with hunger and exhaustion, fell upon the sausage while waiting for the soup to be brought in, and ate it greedily, munching noisily and moving his temples.

"My goodness!" thought Sofya Petrovna. "I love and respect him, but . . . why does he munch so repulsively?"

The disorder in her thoughts was no less than the disorder in her feelings. Like all persons inexperienced in combating unpleasant ideas, Madame Lubyantsev did her utmost not to think of her trouble, and the harder she tried the more vividly Ilyin, the sand on his knees, the fluffy clouds, the train, stood out in her imagination.

"And why did I go there this afternoon like a fool?" she thought, tormenting herself. "And am I really so weak that I cannot depend upon myself?"

Fear magnifies danger. By the time Andrey Ilyitch was finishing the last course, she had firmly made up her mind to tell her husband everything and to flee from danger!

"I've something serious to say to you, Andrey," she began after dinner while her husband was taking off his coat and boots to lie down for a nap.

"Well?"

"Let us leave this place!"

" H'm! . . . Where shall we go? It's too soon to go back to town."

"No; for a tour or something of that sort.

"For a tour . . ." repeated the notary, stretching. "I dream of that myself, but where are we to get the money, and to whom am I to leave the office?"

And thinking a little he added:

"Of course, you must be bored. Go by yourself if you like."

Sofya Petrovna agreed, but at once reflected that Ilyin would be delighted with the opportunity, and would go with her in the same train, in the same compartment. . . . She thought and looked at her husband, now satisfied but still languid. For some reason her eyes rested on his feet -- miniature, almost feminine feet, clad in striped socks; there was a thread standing out at the tip of each sock.

Behind the blind a bumble-bee was beating itself against the window-pane and buzzing. Sofya Petrovna looked at the threads on the socks, listened to the bee, and pictured how she would set off. . . . vis-à-vis Ilyin would sit, day and night, never taking his eyes off her, wrathful at his own weakness and pale with spiritual agony. He would call himself an immoral schoolboy, would abuse her, tear his hair, but when darkness came on and the passengers were asleep or got out at a station, he would seize the opportunity to kneel before her and embrace her knees as he had at the seat in the wood. . . .

She caught herself indulging in this day-dream.

"Listen. I won't go alone," she said. "You must come with me."

"Nonsense, Sofotchka!" sighed Lubyantsev. "One must be sensible and not want the impossible."

"You will come when you know all about it," thought Sofya Petrovna.

Making up her mind to go at all costs, she felt that she was out of danger. Little by little her ideas grew clearer; her spirits rose and she allowed herself to think about it all, feeling that however much she thought, however much she dreamed, she would go away. While her husband was asleep, the evening gradually came on. She sat in the drawing-room and played the piano. The greater liveliness out of doors, the sound of music, but above all the thought that she was a sensible person, that she had surmounted her difficulties, completely restored her spirits. Other women, her appeased conscience told her, would probably have been carried off their feet in her position, and would have lost their balance, while she had almost died of shame, had been miserable, and was now running out of the danger which perhaps did not exist! She was so touched by her own virtue and determination that she even looked at herself two or three times in the looking-glass.

When it got dark, visitors arrived. The men sat down in the dining-room to play cards; the ladies remained in the drawing-room and the verandah. The last to arrive was Ilyin. He was gloomy, morose, and looked ill. He sat down in the corner of the sofa and did not move the whole evening. Usually good-humoured and talkative, this time he remained silent, frowned, and rubbed his eyebrows. When he had to answer some question, he gave a forced smile with his upper l