Published: International Socialist Review, Vol 1, No. 9, 10, 11, 12, 1901.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000.
IN an attic room in a wretched street, three children sat hugging a stove between grimy whitewashed walls, on which the dim light of a tallow candle threw awful suggestions of neglected childhood, in the shape of huge, tousled heads and cadaverous, stooping shoulders, vaguely but terribly outlined. At the other end of the room a woman lay in a drunken sleep, with her head on a mattress. A cheap pine table, a couple of chairs, anti an old box completed the furniture of the room.
It was bitterly cold, and long past midnight. The candle had sunk to the rim of the candlestick and was a mere ghost of an illumination, and the one thing that seemed the most alive in that room was the old stove, for within its bosom a tiny handful of dying embers gleamed through the cracks of the heavy iron plates and warmed their rusty surfaces to the temperature of a living human body. The children laid their faces on it and hugged its heavy unresponsive angles. When the palms of their hands became thoroughly warmed they rubbed them slowly over their chests and stomachs. The eldest of the trio, a girl of nine, sat on a broken chair clasping one of the little boys around the waist with a pair of thin arms, while he sprawled face downward on the stove. When opportunity offered, she loosened one hand from the other to lay it lovingly on the stovelid, rubbing her cheek with it afterwards. It was not a matter of much concern that the soot of the stove was transferred to the faces of these children until they looked as if ready to take part in a minstrel show.
"Hold me now, sissy," muttered the older lad, a trifle larger than his brother, whom he pushed forcibly out of the girl's arms.
The little fellow who was deposed fell to embracing the stove from the opposite side, but quickly finding a better way, he climbed upon it with a feeble shout of exultation. There he sat, lost in profound reflection; a pretty child, with tangled curls, his deep-set dark-blue eyes looking out from a pallid baby countenance. His chin buried itself in his ragged jacket; his hands sought pockets and found holes, which he had always taken to be pockets, never having known any other variety. His sister eyed him tenderly and raised a hand to smooth the hair from his forehead.
"What's he matter now, Tahm-my? she questioned deferentially, desiring him to speak.
After a pause, with his blue eyes fixed on the blank wall opposite, in thin, childish treble, he solemnly addressed an invisible choir:
Wunst, we-uns had a big, big fire in'ere stove ! A long time ago–four–five–six–twenty-five years ago, and sixteen days. An' we burned up all de coal to wunst ! An' we never have no more big fire now–never no more !"
"That was when pappy was home," answered his sister, in a very grown-up, matter-of-fact tone; "an' now he's 'way agin. We was good and warm twict las' winter, Tahm-my; you 'member the big hot fire las' winter, when we had hash an' fried taters, an' oysters, an' agin when we had ginger cakes an' onions an' liver?"
"I don't 'member no oysters, Mah-ty."
"Nor me neither." chimed in the other boy.
Nor ginger cake an' liver, Mah-ty."
"We ain't had 'em never," corroborated his brother, fiercely.
'we ain't got mem'ries like we was big an' old ! Little chillens forgits things; but we had 'em, and ate 'em–wunst, twict."
"Was I 'lowed to set on er stove, Mah-ty, when we-uns had oyters, an' liver, an' ginger cake?"
"'Twould 'a' burnt ye; 'twas a blazin' hot stove–red hot, Tahm-my!"
"I don't want no red-hot stove to burn me pants an' legs. likes to set a-top o' de stove–like I'se a-setin' now–an' git warm froo and froo, Mah-ty."
The child looked up radiantly into his sister's face. He had forgotten what being warm was like, but his imagination for the moment was deeply gratified with the desperate expedient of sitting on the top of a stove that had a make-believe fire in its bosom.
"He ain't got no sense, he ain't !" cried the older boy, has he slapped the visionary philosopher.
Mattie interfered by dragging the scoffer back to her lap, where he continued to exhibit his displeasure by kicking Tommy's legs.
The younger child, pursuing the policy of non-resistance that was natural to him, shivered and relapsed into his attitude of angelic contemplation. Mattie fixed her fond gaze upon him, and again waited for him to speak. His last observation had not been quite up to the mark, but words of deep import and beautiful baby cunning were undoubtedly hovering behind his lips. Suddenly he raised a warning finger.
"Somefin's comin' outside–it's stopped!"
"A patrol wagon!" shrieked Jimmy, dashing from his sister's arms to the window.
Mattie was about to follow joyfully, but stopped awe-struck by the expression on Tommy's face. He sat staring, with eyes full of terror, his baby forefinger still uplifted.
"The Croolty's a-comin' up the stairs–for we-uns. It's a-goin' to put us away–to put us away." The child's voice rose to a shriek, and Mattie with a responsive scream flung her arms around him.
Jimmy, turning from the window, fled to his sister for safety, burying his face in her lap. The tramp of heavy feet was already on the stairway, the sounds coming nearer. The children shut their eyes and cowered together. The door was shaken by powerful hands from the outside; in a second the bolt gave way,and two tall men in dark uniform burst into the room. In the agony of the moment, instinct blotted out experience,and with one voice the three children screamed piercingly :
"Mammy! Mammy! Mammy!"
But their God-given protector slept on in profound peace. One of the men examined her carefully and made a note of her condition. The other addressed a remark to the children:
"A good society's a-goin' to take charge of you-uns and give you good homes and an eddication. Come along."
His strong hands grasped the arms of the little boys, who found themselves suddenly lifted to their feet with no power to resist. They stopped crying and stared at their sister in stupefaction.
"You come along too, sis," added the officer, in a tone that was not unkind–"without you want to stay here and freeze to death. Say, do you mean to come along with these here boys or not?"
The girl's back was turned in an attitude of stubborn resistance, but she now sprang quickly to her feet.
"I'm a-goin' wherever Tahm-my an' Jimmy's a-goin'," she answered shrilly, and cast a wild, Amazon-like glance upon her captor.
No further preparation was needed than to seize a ragged hood from a corner and thrust her arms into a woman's jacket many sizes too large for her. The party left the room hastily, one officer saying to the other that he would send immediately for an ambulance to convey the insensible woman to the hospital.
Soon afterward, the scene shifted to the office of the "Cruelty" Society, and Mattie waited in breathless suspense for the next development in the "putting away" process.
Ever since she could remember this phrase had been sounded in her ears with bewildering variations of meaning. Sometimes it was used as a threat to awe disobedient children, but more frequently it conveyed thee idea of calamity, pure and simple, in which the innocent suffered with the guilty, and children were "put away" because their parents could not afford to keep them. Still again, it signified a funeral and a big hole in the ground out somewhere in the suburbs.
The horrors of implacable fate, of dreadful retribution, and of icy death were combined in this terrible phrase, and all the children whom Mattie knew shook when they heard it, just as our primitive ancestors trembled when the motives of their gods and demigods became hopelessly obscured, and the innocent were in immediate danger of bringing upon themselves the wrath of heaven.
When little children disappeared in this sudden fashion from the neighborhood in which they lived, it was generally understood that they had been "put away." In many cases they were never seen again by their playmates; but occasionally they returned, wearing an altered look and a crushed demeanor, as if they had been put through a wringing-out process. They were always reticent in regard to their experiences, but if perseveringly coaxed they managed to convey the impression that they had endured inexpressible hardships in a strange and terrible world, inhabited exclusively by "orphans" and supervised by deities known as matrons and managers. Their reticence was that of the shipwrecked mariner who dislikes to dwell on past sufferings, and it was respected accordingly. An organization known in the slums as the "Croolty Society" was associated with these ghastly disappearances. Its was of swooping down–vulture-like–upon little children who were known to he innocently happy in their gutter games and midnight rambles produced a sense of being long shadowed by a mysterious and awful power, which can be compared only to some of the horrors that were abroad when the songs of the Edda were first sung in the halls of the Scandinavian warriors.
The next day Mattie was dusting the office–to her mind, a perfectly meaningless service which she performed with cheerful alacrity. An austere-looking, gold-spectacled gentleman, who sat at a desk, addressed by name another man who sat at the other end of the room, observing that the McPherson boys were to go to the Orphans' Home as soon as they could be got ready. The other man nodded, and Mattie stared from one to the other with a quaking heart.
Nothing further happened for some minutes, during which she went on dusting and pondering. To have asked either of these dignitaries what was meant by the remark she had overheard would have been equivalent to demanding of a printed almanac what it meant by heralding an eclipse of the sun for the 12th of next February. The officials were not beings with whom a little child could hold speech, and it could scarcely be said that a common language existed between them. She went on dusting, and only her eyes pleaded and questioned while she argued with the fear that was in her heart.
It fluttered and grew still when nothing seemed about to happen. It fluttered again as the man at the desk closed his ledger deliberately and put it away. He then arose from his chair and walked to the door, Mattie's eyes following him. She noticed that he went upstairs, where her brothers were playing on the third floor. After a silence, she heard the footsteps of the man descending and little feet accompanying his. Into the office came Jimmy and Tommy, with their hats and coats on. Her fear was now clutching her by the throat. Wildly she gazed upon the children, but they appeared to be stupidly unconcerned at this great crisis in their lives.
"We-uns is a-goin' to ride in er trolley cars!" said Jimmy, with a foolish smile.
"I want to go wiv' my buvyers," cried the girl in a loud, abrupt voice, addressing nobody in particular.
"Hurry and get off," said the gold-spectacled gentleman softly.
The agent caught both boys by the hand and pushed them hastily outside the door. Mattie flew after them and flung her arms around Tommy, who stood motionless and aggrieved at such behavior.
"I want to go wiv' Jimmy and Tahm-my–wiv' my buvyers," she sobbed in piteous accents.
Some one unclasped her hands from Tommy's neck, and carried her back into the office, where she was placed upon a chair and held forcibly. Knowing then that she was separated from her brothers forever, the child broke from her habit of self-repression into sobs, veils and curses of despair. She continued to scream the names of her brothers until her voice weakened from exhaustion and she could only repeat them in a husky whisper. The agents then carried her upstairs and laid her on one of the beds in a small dormitory intended for sic children. An hour later they hoped she had cried herself to sleep, but as the superintendent turned to leave the room, a tremulous moan reached his ear, and he carried it home with him that night in spite of his efforts to shut it from memory:
"I want to go wiv' Jim-my an' Tahm-my. I want to go wiv Jim-my-an'-Tahm-m-m-m-y !"
It was the last day of the old year, and as the old superintendent recalled the fact, he made a mental note of another and more cheering fact which was that the capture of the three McPhersons carried the number of rescued children from 998 to 1,001–a splendid record for the year, and a glorious showing for the Annual Report! This meant "rescue" at the rate of two children and three-fourths of a child–roughly speaking-per day. In ten years it would mean 10,000 children–equal to the population of a good-sized town–all to be neatly and economically distributed among the various institutions of the city which were hungrily clamoring for them. A beneficent world indeed ! He fell asleep soothed by this beautiful thought.
Several years later, a young man sat one afternoon in the office of another philanthropic establishment and became deeply absorbed in the contemplation of an open ledger. His dark, brilliant, expressive eyes were tracing condensed biographies. At the top of one page, under a printed heading of "Department of Waifs and Strays," there was inscribed in large letters the name "Elizabeth Powtowska." The narrative, which was written and not printed, described the first appearance in eleemosynary history of the young person with the high-sounding Polish name, the story beginning with the death of a Russian emigrant.
Julian Endicott–this was the name of the serious-eyed young man–had become the guardian of the Polish girl by accepting three years before the secretaryship of the "Association for Sociological Research"–an influential organization, liberally supported by people of wealth and culture in the city. Its proud boast was that its work was conducted on a strictly scientific basis, that it was admirably divided and sub-divided into departments wherein all suffering humanity might be accurately classified, tabulated and studied as specimens of social phenomena. Its object was not to abolish poverty, but to study it as one would study botany or geology. Nothing that met the eye in this office was in the least suggestive of alms-giving, for it held alms-giving in virtuous abhorrence. The ground-glass partitions, the handsome oak railings, the high rolling desks and cases filled with card catalogues, ledgers' and filed pamphlets, together with the presence of numerous clerks busily writing or operating typewriting machines–all these were exactly what one might expect to find in a large banking house or flourishing law firm. Philanthropy, under the influence of the commercial spirit of the age, had turned herself into a boa-constrictor and was now engaged in swallowing up her two sisters, Faith and Hope, and proclaiming herself, with swollen self-importance, to be one of the exact sciences.
When young Endicott had accepted this call, the oddest part of his engagement seemed to be the fact that the management of the great association was in the hands of a board of women. There was not a representative of his sex among them. His assistants in the work were to be young women. At that time his curiosity and longing to begin his study of their wonderful work–for they had written him that there was no other like it in the world–had rivaled the aspirations of the adventurous heroes who visited, in disguise, the halls of Tennyson's "Princess."
It is true that in the Annual Report of the "Association" had long appeared the names of many eminent male citizens who were grouped on a separate page as a "Board of Advisors, with a distinguished Episcopal clergyman conspicuously named as their president. But Julian was early informed that they were merely figureheads, and during the years of his labors for the cause they represented he had never known of their advice being asked, nor was he aware that they had ever attended a meeting. When he persistently sought out these gentlemen, as he did on one occasion, he discovered that several of them knew not on what street the "Association" was situated, and others knew not whether the organization they endorsed with their names was intended to shelter aged widows, to reform inebriates, to furnish soup for the starving, or to house, feed and educate homeless orphans.
But as a matter of fact, it experimented with all of these things and as many more as possible, for it was reaching out towards a wonderful ideal of a "University of Sociological Research," and had just built a lecture hall wherein all students and workers in "charity" might meet to discuss their problems.
Julian had been frankly told from the first that his sex was considered a drawback which the gentle philosophers had agreed to overlook, being more reasonable than the "Princess" and her followers. He was young, handsome and a Harvard graduate; he had come to them for an exceedingly small salary. This was partly because he had studied for the ministry, and had afterward abandoned all thought of it in search of a kind of ministration that would hold him in close touch with his fellows, instead of setting him apart on a pinnacle of spiritual superiority. The cares of the "Association for Sociological Research" seemed the nearest to his ideal of any offer that he had received; while its managers believed fervently that in the equipment of a divinity student, all errors of sex might be considered as having been effaced in the white light of ecclesiastical scrutiny.
It is possible that they were not aware of the extent of Julian's sacrifice, but they were certainly gratified that he was so entirely willing to bury himself alive in their service. He was, it is true, somewhat old-fashioned in his ideas of "charity, but it was not to be supposed that the tool in the master's hand ever fully appreciates all that is in the mind of the master, and Julian was regarded distinctively as the "tool" of the masterly minds that were directing the work of the Association. If he did not fully realize the secondary importance of the role he was playing, it was because his managers were well-bred, soft-voiced women whose first mission in life was to conform to a high standard of courteous speech and hearing.
Julian's unceasing efforts had left him worn, thin and sallow of cheek, a mere shadow of his former self. So he looked as a rule when he sat studying those biographical pages. The Russian waif was now eighteen years of age, and he took a personal pride in contemplating this young person's later history. For he had actually prepared her for something higher than a life-work of dishwashing; she had exchanged housework in a farmhouse for a high school and a business college, from both of which she had graduated with honors. Afterwards, she was employed as a clerk by a business firm.
But the page had to be turned, and now he read the name "Martha McPherson." The blunders which had wrecked this young life–so he was told–had been caused by the wretched inexperience of former superintendents. Julian had himself failed to grasp the real degradation of the surroundings that had been selected for her until his rescue came too late. She had remained on a city truck farm until her nature had coarsened into a likeness of the soil in which her young feet had literally been planted. She had dug, scraped and ploughed during all that was left of her childhood, because, as the owners of her toil declared, "she was fit for nothing else." Before this she had been dragged through several charitable institutions–each of which had left its mark upon her–but in the hands of the "Association" she had received the worst scars that can disfigure young womanhood, and Julian felt the burden of her wrongs now heaped upon his young shoulders. As secretary of the "Association" he felt responsible for all the makeshift efforts that had marred the young life but lately entrusted to his guidance.
The record was as dreadful as one of Ibsen's plays–more tragic, indeed, than anything Ibsen ever wrote–thought Julian, as he bit his pencil and glowered at the hideous statements.
Rising from the desk under a sudden pressure of feeling, he walked to the window and looked out, seeing not the street, but a pathetic vision of a very young girl wearing a faded shawl and hugging to her breast an infant. This forlorn caricature of motherhood made even the beautiful image of the Madonna seem cheap. His sense of justice was now bewailing the mystery which Martha had flung around the child and herself; she wrapped herself in it as though it were a robe of spotless purity; she defied the world to pry into the secret of her child's parentage!
Then he thought again of Elizabeth. A few days before, his visiting agent had reported the shocking information that the employer of Elizabeth Powtowska had twice presented her with a bunch of flowers. The agent had called at the office and was unfavorably impressed by the employer's appearance; she thought it important that Julian should call on him immediately. Julian had promised to attend to it, but he bethought himself of another plan, and finally succeeded in getting the committees of the "Association'' to consent to the employment of Elizabeth in their office as a supplementary clerk.
"I may venture to hope that she'll be safe here," he thought with a ghost of a smile.
For a second he paused and contemplated with ironical gravity the singular features of his present career as a knight-errant, for the bald fact now stood forth clearly that all the relative advantages of his sex had been adroitly reversed by his female managers. This picture of himself was so keenly absurd that he turned from it quickly with a grimace, which expressed not only his consciousness of having failed to effect the pose of a hero, but his complete indifference to the fact.
With a sigh he recalled a ridiculous struggle that had to be carried on, week after week, with various committees of the board of managers. Every detail of every plan had to be argued and shoved through these committees by main force of will. It was like getting a bill through Congress. Some of these gentle women excelled as obstructionists, and all of them had always insisted on their right to decide every question in Julian's work by a majority vote. He did not suspect that they flocked to the meetings because it offered them an hour of mental exercise, that they raised questions for the sole purpose of debating them, and not because it mattered in the least which argument carried. It was all play to them, but death to this poor lad's elasticity of spirit. He was more depressed than ever after the meetings, not only on account of the great output of moral enthusiasm which left him exhausted, but because the fabric of their minds seemed to him every day to become more and more incomprehensible. One of his hardships was their failure to remember from week to week the few and simple facts on which their decision of a previous week depended. Their minds were formless, like jelly fish, nebulous like summer clouds, he thought; or were they only mentally indolent? Julian knew that he did all their thinking for them; he acted as an obliging memory; he persuaded, dragged and forced them to a conclusion, and accepted meekly this conclusion as their "instructions" for the coming week.
They were fashionable women and their superb air of worldly authority combined with heavenly omniscience for a long time had deeply impressed him. They evidently believed that they ruled with a diviner right than that of kings. But his faith was now no longer equal to theirs. He was country-born and bred, and the vantage ground of social privilege was as yet an undiscovered land to him.
With the consent of four separate committees at last secured, Elizabeth had begun her new duties only the day before. She had thanked Julian demurely, and asked whether in the future she was to consider herself an employe or a ward of the Association.
"Both, perhaps," he had replied cautiously.
"Then I am still a waif," she had murmured in a tragic voice, slowly walking back to the desk with her head lowered. Julian then repeated this remark, which both amused and puzzled him,, to the managers, who argued from it that Elizabeth was an ungrateful girl. As it was impossible to disabuse their minds of this idea, he resolved this afternoon to he wary of repeating to them the strange sayings of the waifs.
It was nearly dark when Julian reached his boarding house. He ate his dinner mechanically, and was half way upstairs when a voice in his ear asked in a tone of affected anxiety in the philanthropic hens had been pecking worse than usual. He turned quickly to greet a fellow-boarder whose name was Cooper Denning.
Julian's laughing protest on behalf of his female managers passed unquestioned, the speaker not being anxious to discuss the management of the "Association," whose existence he was unable to regard in any other than a facetious light. He was a lawyer of moderate means to whom the profession of law served to pass away the tedious hours that lay between great social events. Julian found him arrayed usually in faultless evening dress.
Having drawn Julian almost forcibly into his chamber, Denning lit a cigar and settled himself in an easy chair which Julian had declined. He observed discontentedly:
"I believe half the delight you ascetics take in physical discomfort comes from the mental distress you know you are causing selfish brutes like myself."
"Did you think I was seeking discomfort? I only wanted to get nearer your fire! Surround me with all the luxuries you own,–you'll find I'm no ascetic," answered Julian so energetically that Denning laughed.
"Your face was so long at dinner I thought perhaps you had been renewing your vows."
"I never made any. I'm sorry the study of social problems doesn't interest you, Denning, but if you were to dive with me into the unfathomable depths of biology, psychology, and a few other mysteries–"
"Biology, psychology–unfathomable depths!–that sounds like woman !"
"That's just what it is," said Julian, clasping his hands over his crossed knees and contemplating the fire with thoughtful eyes. "That's just what I've been studying,–woman." He sighed.
"In love, boy?"
"Heaven forbid! It's the incarnation–the feminine gender itself–that has been leading me such a dance. I believe it is one of the evil spirits from Pandora's Box–the worst of the lot. I should like to box it up again and set it on your mantel piece."
"My dear young friend, what on earth have you to do with the feminine gender outside of a lady manager–or a French grammar–unless you're in love?"
Julian gave a short sketch of his tragic experiences with the waifs. There seemed to be nowhere a spot on God's earth where they were thoroughly safe.
"If I had a world to create," he concluded gloomily, "I am sure I should find one sex enough. It would make life much simpler."
"Which one would you leave out?" asked the older man. As Julian did not reply, he smoked on in silence, while he contemplated his serious young guest with a becoming gravity. Finally he said:
"You dwell too much on the dismal side of life, Endicott. You are in danger of exaggerating every symptom of your youthful charges, because your experience is so frightfully limited. You want to gain knowledge of life; then you can sift out the whole business and estimate things in their right proportion. Touch, taste, devour all experiences. Of course I should not say this if I did not know you came of good stock."
"Thanks; I think I have been gaining considerable experience of late."
"Yes–all in one line. Your observations of the other sex, for instance, are confined to a single, wretched, degraded type."
"Human nature is the same in all grades of society–I believe that." Julian's voice touched suddenly the deeper note of the enthusiast.
"I do not admit your generalization; you advance it as an article of faith–a dogma to take the place of a belief in the Trinity! It's useless to argue with you."
"I perceive that you have a logical mind, Denning, but I have no way of gaining the larger experience–or time either. I am willing to count myself a narrow, pent-up stream–perhaps a very shallow one–-but still I hope to accomplish some good in my groove, like any other specialist."
"Specialist is good–a fine word," observed the lawyer, smiling. "I am going to think out a plan for you if you will have the extreme goodness to play something. Make a little music, won't you? We'll turn down the gas, as you always play better when you can hardly see the key;, and I'll lie here and meditate until I discover a short cut to experience for you.
He turned down the light as he spoke and stretched himself on the lounge while Julian, with a boyish shrug and a laugh, went into his own room and opened the piano noiselessly and tenderly, as musicians handle the instrument they love. Through the doorway, the red glow of the fire from Denning's room softened young Endicott's serious profile into a beauty that was partly Greek and partly of a more modern type.
He struck a few chords absently and then began a musical reverie.
With the aid of the delicate phrases which Julian's fingers seemed to he carving out of the silence, an idea came into Denning's head, and he considered it with amused satisfaction while rings of smoke circled above him.
When the music stopped, he rose quickly and crossed the threshold to lay his hand on the other's shoulder.
"I always enjoy your playing, but this time it has suggested wonderful ideas! I have a plan mapped out, an original and delightful method of obtaining the experience you need."
Julian, striking chords softly, looked up with a dreamy expression. An amazing proposition was being presented to him. He was to be introduced into fashionable circles as a stranger from Boston, a young man fresh from college.
"I shall ask boldly for permission to take 'my young friend' with me while he is in the city; and after you are introduced properly, your stay is to be prolonged little by little until perhaps–"
"I come from New York state, not Boston–and I have been living in this city over three years. Would you have me ashamed of my birth and belongings? Really, I have no time for such things as you propose."
"You have every night–it's all I have."
"Yes, I could go nights," sighed Julian, relapsing into a barbarism that invoked memories of country sleighing parties, camp meetings, village sociables and the like. Denning smiled a little and went on unfolding his plan. "You will have to buy a dress suit and a ten-cent white tie, and that will cover the whole expense."
"I have both,"–Julian developed a faint show of interest,–"I'm not going in for any ridiculous deceptions–neither are you–but if I should go with you some evening in my own character and not as somebody else, I have a suit, and a stunning tie." Pulling open a bureau drawer, he drew out a white satin butterfly tie for Denning's inspection. The latter looked at it gravely; his expression became intensely solemn–-nay, he began to grow pale.
"It is very handsome, he said in a low voice, as he laid it gently back in the drawer. "It's quite a work of art and will do for some rare occasion. The little social affairs we get up in this city are not worthy of that tie just yet; 'Solomon in all his glory'–"
"It cost a quarter!" cried Julian, laughing. He gave a side glance at his friend's face, and blushed deeply. Denning noting the blush, forgave him.
"You see your plan is impossible," cried Julian, turning away in vexation. "I appreciate your goodness in wanting to introduce me to your world, but it would be a case of the wrong kind of tie all the way through. Thanks for your generosity."
Denning laughed. "You can put me on a pedestal if you want to, for the worship of future philanthropists. I shall not give up the idea, though it's too late to discuss it fully this evening. It's time for me to dress–so good-night."
With a nod and a wave of his hand, he disappeared into his room and closed the door, leaving Julian to continue his musings on the painful predilections of female waifs and strays.
MARTHA McrHERSON was causing trouble to the matron and managers of "St. Agnes' Holy House"; Julian's presence was needed there to quell the insubordinate outcast. This was the news that greeted him the following morning. In the afternoon he went out to the institution. Its managers were in friendly co-operation with the Association for Sociological Research.
He was led upstairs to a large apartment filled with cots and young women holding small bundles in their arms sitting beside the cots. Martha sat apart with her babe on her lap.
"We've had to keep her from the rest to prevent contamination," the matron whispered; "she's the worst we've got–shameless to a degree that makes me blush. Yes, sir! at my age and with all. I've saw and knowed of the sinfulness of the world it makes me blush to behold her!"
Julian, glancing at the lady's round, purple face and huge head growing out of immense shoulders, vaguely wondered if he should indeed attribute her chronic floridness to a too prolonged contemplation of the frail feminine humanity gathered under that roof.
"What has Martha done?" he asked.
"I'll give you a sample; she'll show herself off quick enough. Just take a seat, Martha, this is the gentleman from the good society that has looked after you like a loving parent since you was took away by the 'Croolty' from your first parents that misused you so dreadful."
"They didn't misuse me," muttered the girl sullenly.
"They didn't? Not when they spent all their money on drink and gave you nothin' to eat and no clothes to put on your back?"
"That warn't misusin'," explained the Magdalen desperately. "Pappy was out o' work, and me mammy'd drink jes' to keep up her sperrits. I've been misused worse since I left 'em–abused more than they ever done. I'd go back right to-mor row if I knowed where they was."
The matron shot a pleased glance at Julian.
"Now, you see the gratitude that's in her? But that ain't what we come to talk about. Martha, this here gentleman wants to know what we know; he's taken the occasion to come on that errand and he can't do no more for you till he knows all them particulars that you're holding back in your wicked heart. Now, I want you to confess to him the whole truth. I want you to open that heart of yours and let the light of the Lord Jesus shine into it for just this one brief moment. Don't you know Him and this here gentleman is standin' together an' knockin' at the door of that wicked heart o' yourn?"
Julian considered whether he would dispute this representation of the Teacher of Men conspiring with himself to further the ends of a vulgar prosecutor of the defenceless, but he decided to await further developments. "There ain't nothin' to confess," replied the girl stubbornly.
"There, sir–that's all the answer we get to our pleadings. Why, you wouldn't believe the kindnesses that's been showered on her! Every one of our managers has been here a-pleadin' with her in turn. They come rollin' up in their carriages and a-rustlin' up in their silks and satins and their furs and velvets to waste their valuable time in this here sinful room, when they might be enjoyin' theirselves at their afternoon teas and receptions ! One sweet, religious lady, she got down on her knees on this very floor and prayed and sang two hymns by her side. But did she get out of her the name of that there child's father? Not a bit of it–no more than you will now, sir !"
Julian was about to end the conversation by disclaiming indignantly any share of curiosity on the subject, when his attention was directed to Martha's face. She sat straight in her chair with glazed eyes fixed on the blank, unpainted wall, Her head was raised; her expression had frozen into a kind of petrified horror, as if she were looking straight at some awful object. Had the mention of her child's father raised a fearful apparition?
The matron laid a fat hand on Julian's sleeve. "Now you see it," she whispered triumphantly–"the look we've all been gettin' !" She raised her voice and addressed the girl threateningly, "You brazen-eyed creature! We've been castin' our pearls before such as you long enough ! This gentleman's got the power to inflict proper punishment and he ain't goin' to take the lies from your mouth that–"
"Woman–be silent!" Julian turned upon her with a voice of command; he ordered her sternly and briefly to withdraw.
"I wish to speak to this girl alone." He arose from his chair and faced the astounded matron without the shadow of an apology in his manner. She gasped for breath, her voluble speech failing her in such an extraordinary crisis. With a gesture of rage and consternation, she fled from the room.
Julian turned to Martha. She was no longer staring at the wall, but was bending over her child devotedly.Her expression had utterly changed.
"What do you call the little fellow?" Julian asked as he leaned forward to touch the child's hand.
"His name is Tahmmy–an' it's Jimmy, too. Tahmmy-James. That's his name. There was the two of 'em,–but they're gone now."
"There were two," repeated Julian, bewildered. Two what ?"
"Two boys–my bruvyers–Tahmmy an' Jimmy. Their real names was Thomas an' James. The Cruelty got 'em. They was put away in a orphans' home. I guess they're dead now. Tahmmy wouldn't live long in a orphans' home. He didn't want to be no orphan, but he was took an' made one–him an' Jimmy–an' me, too."
"I never knew you had brothers." Julian hung his head over the incomplete knowledge of the various associations that had exercised such omnipotent control over this young creature's destiny. If they had known of the existence of the brothers, they had failed to pass it on.
"Could I find 'em, do you s'pose, if I was to go an' ask at all them houses where they has boy orphans an' look'em over an' p'int 'em out to them as has 'em in charge–supposin' they ain't dead? I'd know 'em wiv their hair cut off quick enough! Tahmmy's got eyes like this here baby. You could tell they was all to one fam'bly. Look at my baby's eyes." She held the infant, who was now aroused from his slumbers, towards Julian, her pale young face full of pride and motherliness.
"The bittern standing in solitary possession of the 'waste places and the pools of water' might make a more appropriate show of family pride," thought Julian. He expressed his appreciation of the baby's eyes.
"He had eyes that looked like he was talkin' back to the angels in heaven–Tahmmy had. But Jimmy was born with just common eyes. I darsn't call my baby after Tahmmy an' not after him too,'cause Jimmy was that jealous o' Tahmmy he'd s'pose I did it to spite 'im. I never made a pin's diff'rence 'tween'em, but it's Tahmmy I seen always in my dreams after he was put away–lookin' white an' sorrowful. I used to wake from sich dreams; but I don't have 'em any more up cryin' since this here one's come. I 'member when Tahmmy was a baby like this here one. He's a-goin' to be Tahmmy right over ag'in. Mebbe he's sent a-purpose? Why di?" Martha turned her tear-laden, colorless eyes full upon Julian.
It was certainly best to pass over the inquiry. "I will try to find out what has become of your brothers; but now we must decide about the baby and how you can manage to support it."
Martha looked cautiously around. "They want me to give him way, that's what they want. Some would be glad to be rid of 'im–but I ain't one o that kind. I love my beautiful baby." She kissed him tenderly. "They ask me everyday who he looks like. why who is there for him to look like but me–without it' Tahmmy Just as if he had two parents like other folks!"
Was she merely protecting herself–as a flower shuts up its petals in the pelting rain? She was a simple creature–a mere child. Something very like innocence looked out of her eyes. She seemed to Julian to be obeying a mysterious, all-powerful instinct which forbade her contemplating for a second the evil that had surrounded her. She would live only in the present. She would not look into that degrading background. When forced to do so, it froze her young soul into the blank horror which he had witnessed in her eyes.
He moved swiftly to the conclusion that she should not remain another hour under that roof. The door opened to admit the matron, who came forward snorting. Julian stated his decision briefly. She poured forth a cataract of angry words "My lady managers will be told, sir, how their representative has been treated by the person wrongfully called a gentleman ! Eleven matrons in sixteen years has been put in charge of this institution the board o' managers havin' been a-strivin' and a-strugglin in vain to obtain a lady of my experience and my respectability, which they was unable to do until I consented to sacrifice my worldly prospects and accept their paltry salary for the good of these poor creatures here below, an' the hope of a reward in heaven; and when I tell them that I've been called 'a woman' to my face, sir–"
Julian's wits wandered during this oration; he was trying to decide whether he saw before him Mrs. Bumble or Mrs. Squeers in the flesh. He repeated blandly his former statement: "I wish to remove the girl. Be kind enough to get her and the child ready to leave at once."
"The child stays here," said the official, stamping her foot and folding her arms defiantly. "You can take the girl, but the babe belongs to the institution."
I fail to understand," murmured Julian, looking away. He thought it extraordinary that a board of refined women should retain such a woman as this in a position of authority. And did not her eleven predecessors only emphasize the capacity of these "boards" for hideous blundering? He could not bear to look at this preposterous and terrible personage Her vulgar outlines only remotely suggested the
coarseness of the spiritual fiber within, but they actually hurt his eyes; he turned them away in obedience to all instinct of delicacy–an exaggerated deference to her sex–which would not betray all the disgust that was mirrored in his soul. But the august lady moved herself into the direct range of his vision.
"It's in the by-laws, sir! 'In consideration of the care, nursing and attention given to the inmates, it is resolved that the legal control of their offspring belongs to the board of managers who hereby constitute themselves guardians of all children born in this institution'!"
She recited these words with gleaming eyes, and finished with a lunge of her head like an angry bull.
"Both ridiculous and illegal," observed Julian coolly. I shall remove Martha and the child immediately. Get your things on, Martha."
The girl rose with a frightened air and moved with faltering steps toward the door.
"Give me the child !" commanded the matron sternly.
"I'll take it," interposed Julian audaciously, holding out his arms. Martha laid the babe against his shoulder and disappeared. Julian sat down, holding the child awkwardly. He turned crimson, conscious of the absurdity of the situation. The matron smiled scornfully and continued her oration. It passed rapidly into vulgar abuse and insinuation.
He was thankful that Martha returned promptly, tying the faded ribbons of an old woolen hood under her chin; a thin, shabby shawl hung over her right arm. Julian asked for a heavier wrap.
"If you choose to break the rules of the institution and insult her who is the head of it, you can all go out just as you came in," was the vicious reply.
The two culprits descended the wide stairway, followed by the matron's mocking laughter. Their exit was hasty and undignified; at the last they had all the appearance of fugitives fleeing from a justifiable prosecution.
Julian was obliged to wrap the infant in his overcoat to protect it from a penetrating wind. Hurriedly they caught a street car. Undoubtedly they were a curious looking pair, and many eyes were directed towards them as they sat side by side. Julian resisted a strong temptation to take a seat at a distance. He supposed that they passed for a family group, notwithstanding that Martha's appearance was strongly suggestive of the poor-house. The cropped head and short skirt exaggerated the young matron's distressing youthfulness, and surprised comments were audible among the passengers.
The office was not reached until after 5 o'clock. Unfortunately, only Elizabeth was there writing, the other agents having gone home. He would have to depend on Elizabeth's aid in disposing of Martha and the babe for the night.
Elizabeth raised her head and took a long look at Martha's forlorn figure. Her face assumed a peculiar rigidity. Martha looked back stolidly, her features slowly hardening into a similar expression.
"I guess you're one of the waifs," she observed in a high thin voice, after a prolonged stare at Elizabeth.
The young clerk drew back panic-stricken. She turned toward Julian.
"We're all alike, she thinks–everybody thinks! I will not stay here; I will not he a waif all my life!" She arose in her excitement and stood against the wall facing Julian. Her little figure was swelling with anger.
Julian went over to her. "You are looking across an immeasurable gulf," he said in a low voice. "I am sorry; I might have been a waif–but I cannot he a woman–and these two need a woman's hand."
Elizabeth glanced up into his face. Then she looked straight at Martha, her face growing solemnly, vaguely sympathetic. "I hope you will do something to make her look like the other people," Julian added imploringly.
Elizabeth held out her hand. The young mother arose and followed without a word. As they reached the head of the stairs, Julian called after them:
"I am hoping you will give her a frock with lots of trimming on it, and a hat with feathers and flowers, and–bright blue ribbons."
Elizabeth laughed silently in the darkness of the stairway. It was well known in the office that the board of managers had prohibited feathers and flowers for waifs, after discussing the subject at one special and two adjourned meetings, with sessions of three hours each. It was an accepted principle among them that the longer a subject was discussed the sounder was the conclusion reached.
Julian opened letters and wrote busily at his desk until he heard steps descending the stairs. He looked up to inspect the work of Elizabeth's hands as Martha entered the room. She was arrayed in a neat brown dress. The transformation was startling. Elizabeth followed with an armful of antiquated hats and bonnets.
"Trimmed with velvet," she murmured briefly, pointing to the brown dress.
"She gimme it, because we're both waifs," cried Martha joyfully. Elizabeth nodded gravely.
'We're both waifs," she repeated in a low voice.
Julian looked at her inquiringly. There was something odd about her appearance. Her trim little figure was lost in a mass of black cashmere.
"She gimme her dress!" cried Martha with increasing enthusiasm, her pale eyes fixed upon Elizabeth.
Julian continued to scrutinize Elizabeth. A wave of color swept over her face. She looked down abashed.
"An old lady left the Association five black dresses. There's nothing else up stairs. I know it's too big–" She pulled at the quaint sleeves with her fingers.
"It's very old fashioned!" cried Julian, laughing.
Elizabeth planted a battered hat on Martha's head, and replaced it quickly with a gigantic bonnet. The effect was terrific. She tried them all, and at last gave up with an hysterical laugh.
"There's mine; she can take it–but there's no blue ribbon." She clasped her hands in confusion.
Julian looked at the little brown turban with its waving plumes. It was hanging from a nail on the wall. It looked exactly like Elizabeth. He took it down and handed it to her.
"Put on your hat and go with this child to some store where you can buy a decent article." He placed a bank note in her hand. "Buy a frock, too, and take yours back."
"It's her's now," said Elizabeth immovably.
"Buy another for yourself then."
Elizabeth turned away quickly and began tying on the baby's bonnet. She helped Martha with her hood and shawl, drew on her own coat, picked up a bundle and steered Martha out of the door with a resolute air.
Julian saw them depart, and then hastened to his boarding house, feeling tired and discouraged.
Denning greeted him with cordiality. "I've secured for you an invitation to the Charity Ball to-night," he said brightly, "and I've left a pile of white neckties on your bureau."
"Ah–white neckties!" repeated Julian absently. He was more familiar with old ladies' bonnets, he thought, as he turned the linen ties over in his fingers. He decided, however, that he would go to the ball in deference chiefly to Denning's plea that he needed the larger experience. Denning assured him that the Charity Ball was a promiscuous affair of which no one need stand in the slightest awe. Otherwise, he could not have obtained the invitation for Julian,–but of course he did not add this explanation.
Denning talked very pleasantly that evening for a couple of hours on the subjects of balls and young girls. He explained much concerning the social life of the great city that to many minds remains shrouded in mystery, but it is doubtful if Julian understood much of what was said. His mind was in fact only half detached from the scenes and incidents of the day just ended. Until they reached the ball room he was still building hedges around his frail female waifs and rescuing others from situations of extraordinary peril.
Denning steered him onward into the very heart of the fairy-like scene. They paused for a moment beside a fluted pillar garlanded with leaves and roses, while Denning, bowing right and left to young girls and older women as they entered, looked about him for some one to whom he might introduce Julian.
"Don't let anything these young things happen to say disconcert you," he observed, "because it is a well-known fact that they don't know in the least what they're saying for more than a year after they come out. Some times they lose their heads too, and we older men have to look after them or there'd be the devil of a talk. As you do not dance you will have to ask a girl to sit out a dance with you. There are plenty have to ask a girl to sit out a dance with you. There are plenty of corners for a chat. But if you get tired talking, the next best thing is to stand by the door and regard these frivolities with a grand, gloomy air,–as if you were some very distinguished person–a foreign ambassador, perhaps–you don't look unlike something of that sort. Here comes Miss Melville, to whom I shall introduce you. You cannot be with her long, for she's in great demand to-night; but there'll be time for a stroll through the corridors perhaps."
A few minutes later, Julian found himself walking by the side of a young beauty gowned in white and gold of such delicate texture that it might have been made of butterflies' wings. She carried an armful of large bouquets made up of roses. There were so many of them and they were in such danger of slipping from her that she handed Julian three of the largest to carry. She led the way herself and was busy casting smiles and nods in every direction, while she poured into Julian's ear a stream of daintily extravagant comments and exclamations. He listened as a man might do who finds himself swimming in green depths by the side of a mermaid whose discourse might be of interest to the curious–possibly of distinct scientific value to the learned–but is of too ethereal and incomprehensible a nature to elicit a reply. His unconcerned, yet very direct scrutiny reached the fair maid through the dazzling medium of her own glory, and passed happily for the nonchalance of a young man of the world.
The smooth, long face and slightly bald head of Cooper Denning suddenly appeared from a doorway. When not smiling he reminded one of an austere priest; but at this moment he was laughing gaily and addressing young girl by his side with an air of chivalrous devotion. They stopped beside Julian and formed a group.
Half a dozen young men approached to speak to Miss Melville. The next moment, Julian found himself walking in the opposite direction, not quite understanding how he had lost Miss Melville, or who had relieved him of her flowers. The young lady by his side appeared to be just as beautiful, however, though she had fewer bouquets, so it did not much matter and in a few moments he was talking into his ear a brilliant continuation of Miss Melville s remarks.
Presently she spoke of Denning. He had introduced to her "qualities" of men, so that all her dances were engaged. He had told her from the first not to be afraid, and had advised what kind of a gown to wear. They had talked it over several weeks ago and he had insisted on white with pearl and silver trimming. Otherwise she might have worn pink. Mr. Denning had prophesied exactly the kind of time she was going to have–it was remarkable how he always knew. He was wonderfully kind, always doing the most unselfish things imaginable. Julian recalled that Miss Melville had sung Denning's praises almost in the same words.
There was another turn in the social wheel. Julian's companion and her bouquets were again torn from him, and he was soon escorting a third young lady, who was burdened with only one bouquet.
In reply to her direct questions, Julian explained in explicit sentences that he did not dance; he knew not the name of the waltz that was being played: he did not know the man who was leading the German; a string of negatives seemed to have become the sum and substance of his conversational resources.
The girl consulted her program; she lifted her head and threw a glance distractedly around.
"It is the fourth dance !" she cried in a trembling voice, and looked at Julian, who in searching through the annals of his experience for a precedent to guide his actions could think of nothing more definite than a scene in "Alice in Wonderland."
"You seem troubled; can I be of any assistance?" he asked quickly.
"Troubled!" repeated the girl. "I should think I was! I wish I were dead; I wish I had never been born!"
She turned to him in desperate appeal.
"Take me to some corner where I can hide myself, where no one will see me. There's nothing else that you can do–apparently."
Julian led her hastily to a small sofa partly concealed by tall plants blooming in gilded pots. Was the girl ill? Was going to faint? Or was he beginning to figure in a role fashioned after the escapades of heroes who accept mysterious missions intended for somebody else, and are led into situations of marvelous complexity, from which they escape only by taking wildly impossible risks? Or was this last experience in the nature of a fantastic joke–a young girl's effort to amuse herself by the indulgence of an extravagant imagination ?
Julian begged her again to tell him what was the matter. She answered with unexpected irritation:
"You are dreadfully obtuse! Do you want me to say in the plainest of English that I'm not engaged for the German–or anything? Why, if you wanted to help me you would go out into the highways and bring up all the men you knew or ever heard of–you would bring up quantities of men to be introduced to me! How can I be expected to know all the men of this city when I have been living in Baltimore?"
Julian sat scowling at what seemed to him the indelicacy of this speech. In all his encounters with the "forwardness" of waifs and strays he had never met anything more repugnant to his taste.
"Unfortunately," he replied, eyeing her with coldness, "I cannot be your knight errant, for like yourself, I know no one at this ball–I know only one man here."
"Mr. Denning, I suppose–I saw you with him. It would be of no use for you to speak to him; he doesn't choose that I shall have a lovely time." Her tone was bitter. She went on with a sudden pathos that seemed to bring her suddenly within the range of a more chivalrous consideration:
"All the other girls are having such a good time–-all but poor little me, left out in the cold! My beautiful sister forgets about me as usual–she is having a magnificent time herself, of course. It means that I am a dead failure. I shall have to hide my head somewhere and take to works of charity–Sunday schools and horrors of that kind. I shall have to wear clothes that don't fit and poke about in the slums, talking to horrid, ill-smelling poor people."
"You might try a convent," suggested Julian, thoughtfully–bringing all his kindly wits to bear upon the unusualness of her case–"but the slums are now altogether too fashionable; you would meet more of your successful rivals there than would be comfortable, I fear–from your standpoint–I mean–of a social failure."
The young girl turned upon him a stare of haughty astonishment; his cold-blooded candor had brought a deep blush to her cheeks.
"I have always heard," she observed with a shrug of her bare shoulders and an irrelevance that was intended to convey a pointed rebuke, "that the men of this city were a set of odious antiques. I've heard they think it improper to be alone with a girl anywhere; they haven't the faintest idea what a stair-case is made for; if they make use of it at all, they all go and sit there together in a crowd–these absurd, odious little men!"
"You mean they leave the girls alone in the parlor?" asked Julian, who was beginning to feel sleepy.
"Oh ! The girls go, too, of course ! The point is that they all sit together. I never had to explain so much in my life before. There's just one nice man living in this whole town, a friend of mine says–she means Cooper Denning."
"He seems to he a great favorite.
"Yes, he leads everything. She told me an amusing story about him. He was dancing once with a very wild girl–a perfect madcap. She had been flirting with him desperately somewhere, just before he asked her to dance, and she was furious at him. She had been daring him to kiss her–setting him almost crazy–and she was furious because he would not try. Now what do you suppose that girl did? Why, she stopped suddenly while they were waltzing in the middle of the room-right before everybody–and shrieked at the top of her voice, and then cried out: 'He kissed me!' Just imagine how the poor man felt when he hadn't! And what on earth do you suppose he did? What would you have done in his place?" "I can't imagine–"
"Why, he pretended that he had! He did that just to save her ! Wasn't it splendid of him! But, the truth leaked out afterward, for it seems that somebody overheard her daring him to kiss her and gave the whole thing away. Wasn't it a shame?"
"I don't know–" The ethics of such a situation were rather too much for Julian; his eyelids, moreover, were heavy–he was frightfully sleepy. The young girl went on mercilessly:
"I am going to tell you something funny. I was sitting on the staircase once, having a perfectly heavenly time with a man I had just met. We were perfectly absorbed in each other, and never noticed that another pair had seated themselves above us with plates of ice cream in their laps. They became perfectly absorbed in each other too–violently absorbed, I should say. The girl leaned to one side and suddenly sprang up–forgetting the ice cream on her lap. Down it came on the back of my neck! My dress was cut down to a point in the back, and the ice cream went down–down–to the belt of my dress–it actually did! Just imagine what a plate of ice cream would feel like on your spinal column ! I had a chill right there on the spot. My teeth chattered, and the two men had to ram their silk handkerchiefs down my back–I made them–to get it all out. They were scared, too–the poor men! I mean–I suppose they were afraid I was going to have pneumonia."
Julian knew not what comment to make on this anecdote and remained dismally silent. e was wondering if he would have to spend the night in the society of this terrible young person and if the ball was likely to last until morning. Immediately afterwards, however, she became absorbed in watching three figures that were approaching, one of them being Cooper Denning. As they drew near she leaned forward with eagerness–trembling, apparently-, between hope and fear.
"Marian, are you looking for me at last?"
The palm leaves were pushed apart and revealed a young woman clad in iridescent silk, of pale sea-green with a border of white flowers encircling her arms and shoulders. The face was one of great loveliness, and Julian rightly guessed that its chief charm lay in a wonderful radiance of expression.
Julian stood with his back against the fluted pillar, while his companion and her sister hastily exchanged explanations, apologies and ripples of laughter, to which Denning and the other man added dextrous compliments implying that they had been searching vainly for this particular young lady all the evening. Julian was conscious of a vague impression that the face of the sister was not new to him. Had he seen it in his dreams? It appeared to him miraculously as a composite reproduction of all the fair faces that one might imagine adorning the art galleries of the world. Its charm of perfect familiarity–as if it had always existed and was in fact as old as the hills in its eternal freshness and beauty–blended mysteriously with its claim to a positive uniqueness. As he gazed, its likeness to a secretly cherished ideal became more and more pronounced, until suddenly the lovely eyes fell upon him with a glance that was almost one of recognition.
A murmuring of names in which his own was omitted while he learned that of his companion to be Vaughn–her sister addressing her as Gertrude–broke the spell. Miss Vaughn, instantaneously transformed into a nymph of mirth and jollity–somewhat to the loss of her air of qualified prettiness–withdrew, chatting gaily with Denning and his friend, whom it now appeared he had brought up for the sole purpose of effecting an introduction, thus providing a bashful youth and a forlorn maiden with partners for the "German." She looked back to utter a laughing farewell, and her glance, sweeping past Julian, expressed very distinctly the wish that she might never see him again. It did not ruffle his vanity, because in a second he realized that he was left alone with the beautiful sister whose first name he knew to be Marian; it vibrated in his ear as a name full of music and grace.
His sense that he was not of this new bewildering world into which he seemed to have stumbled from sheer lack of will to direct his steps that particular evening, began to dissolve into a consciousness that just now he was fitting into something that was both harmonious and interesting. Without embarrassment he waited for her to speak.
She spoke first with her eyes–so sweetly and reassuringly that Julian felt drawn at once into intimacy.
"My sister has left me without mentioning your name." Her voice was like a flute!
"She did not know or care who I was–I could not dance," laughed Julian.
"Gertrude thinks only of a shoulder to cling to and an arm to whirl her around. You might be the greatest lion in America, but Gertrude would have none of you unless you were willing to dance yourself to pieces for her benefit–but I should like to know what to call you–I am Mrs. Starling."
Julian told his name, after which it was natural to tell where he came from and as much of his history as he thought necessary for identification. He described his country home in the lake-studded county of New York with an inward smile over his wanton destruction of Cooper Denning's deceptive little scheme. To his surprise, he found himself elaborating all the reasons that had led him into a choice of what he called rather pathetically his "subterranean profession." Suddenly looking into her face he saw that it was illumined by a glow of feeling. It was like looking at an exquisitely wrought porcelain vase in which a lighted taper was burning.
She seized the theme that was the mainspring of his life–his enthusiasm for humanity, his desire to diminish sin and suffering–and adorned it with her tender fancies.
Julian abandoned his idea of the flute; her voice was like the chime of silver bells; he almost forgot the meaning of her words while searching for this simile. A sudden inspiration overpowered him.
"I am sure you sing!" He blushed at the irrelevance of his remark. She turned to him with an arch expression.
"And I am sure you love music!" It was almost as if she had sung the words. "You play some instrument–the violin, perhaps?"
Julian admitted that he had studied music–at one time with intense ardor. His eyes shone with a peculiar light; his dark, clear-cut face looked all at once strikingly handsome as the blood rose to his cheek. Marian's eyes rested upon him thoughtfully. "And I sing–a little," she echoed in a low voice. She grew grave and cast down her eyes, for Julian was gazing at her as if searching for a glimpse of the bird in her throat. He no longer felt sleepy or bored.
Later on they talked of other things, but frequently came back to the subject of music which both of them loved. Once they stopped talking to listen to the playing of the orchestra, which they quickly agreed was not worth listening to. They did not concern themselves about supper, but walked once or twice through the corridors looking for Gertrude. It was not hard to find her; she was bent on dancing herself and her partners into the early morning hours, and it was a not long time before Marion could persuade her that the cock was really about to crow. The sisters finally withdrew into the dressing-room. Julian waited outside where he was bidden to stand, and escorted them later to their carriage. He shut the door softly and watched the carriage roll down the street until out of sight.
As he could not find Denning, he walked home alone, hoping that Denning was already fast asleep, in bed. He was a little ashamed at having stayed at the ball so late. As he looked with wide-open eyes at the stars which were still visible through the window, he smiled at the grey dawn. He tried to arrange and critically survey his impressions of the ball, but they merged into one definite charming recollection–beyond which all was confused and of no importance. His thoughts were now touching the deep, vast, incomprehensible verities–they were incommunicable, he believed; they melted rapidly, however, into pleasant dreams and profound slumber.
THE next day, when Julian told the story of his adventures at the ball and repeated somewhat drolly the tragic plaint of Miss Gertrude Vaughn, Denning said, with evident concern:
"That was really too bad–too bad! You should have come to me at once–I would have helped her out sooner, had I known–although his hands were dreadfully full during the early part of the evening."
"I saw you in a new role," said Julian, laughing; "the Don Quixote of the ball room, and as romantic a knight errant as myself! It would not do, though, for us to exchange worlds."
Denning looked down modestly. "I do what I can; I like to see young things enjoy themselves. The trouble with the little Vaughn girl is that she has never been introduced properly. The Vaughns were a good old family in their day, but the sister–well, no one knows the family she married into at all. Of course, the doctor is known professionally–but this is not Philadelphia."
"Isn't it possible for Mrs. Starling to shine a little–by her own light?"
"She is beautiful, and she gives charming musicales, I am told. It will do you no harm to go there." Denning's tone was indulgent; his smile gleamed with kindliness, albeit he had spoken of social lines more definitely than he cared to; the subject was painful–to be very explicit, was a vulgarity. Within certain prescribed limits, he strove always to be the chivalrous knight which the secret tenderness of his heart had evolved as an ideal of manly excellence. It was a queer little world for a knight to roam in–about as romantic as a Swiss toy village with painted green shavings for trees, and red and white blocks for houses–but such as it was Denning made the most of it and compressed his knightly spirit into the narrow situation without misgiving, with such old-fashioned simplicity and such entire absence of any desire to create an effect, that no one suspected him of anything more than a very commonplace kindness of heart.
A week later he urged Julian to attend a large reception on the opening night of an art exhibition, and as there was a promise of good music and pictures, Julian donned broadcloth and fine linen again with docility.
He began to speculate with sudden interest on the probability of meeting Mrs. Starling during the evening.
He did not meet her until the evening was nearly over. His legs had now become weary with trampling through the galleries, and his head dizzy from looking simultaneously at rows of oil paintings and the faces of a constantly moving crowd of people. The effort produced sensations similar to those experienced in falling from the top of a very high church steeple.
Landing suddenly upon his feet after turning a sharp corner–as if he had really completed a successful somersault–Julian beheld the object of his search seated upon a low divan. Her upturned face was seriously regarding two fair-haired youths who were standing over her in an attitude of adoration. Julian put himself in the line of vision with her eyes and waited for a glance of recognition. It was bestowed with such a lighting up of welcome that he did not hesitate to station himself shoulder to shoulder with the adoring youths, whose dissatisfaction became instantly apparent.
Conversation being blocked by the anxiety of the first-comers to monopolize it, Julian stood by Marian's side in grave contemplation, until she demanded the reason of his silence.
"I have been wondering if I shall ever hear you sing," he answered, with such simple directness that she felt compelled to give him her undivided attention for three minutes. The brief interview resulted in Marian's agreeing to sing for him, provided he should call on an evening specified, which he promised to do. He left the reception soon afterwards, and went home to lay his dizzy head on a pillow whereon he tossed sleeplessly until morning.
Julian remembered soon afterward his promise to search for the younger brothers of Martha McPherson. He set about it rather listlessly at first, confining his efforts to mailing a series of inquiries to the institutions which he believed might have received them.
After two weeks of search he succeeded in tracing the elder boy as far as a reformatory; but here his history became a blank, for he had been given away to a farmer in Delaware, and both the boy and the farmer had disappeared. Letters sent to the address of the farmer had been returned with the inscription, "Name unknown." The other child–the beatific and beautiful "Tahmmy"–he learned had contracted, while in an Orphans' Home, a contagious disease of the eyes this had caused him to be transferred to the poorhouse where after becoming totally blind, he had died of inanition six months later.
Julian knew, not only by report but by personal inspection, that this particular "Orphans' Home" was always overcrowded. He had every reason to believe that its inmates were half-starved, yet every year a steady stream of "rescued" children poured–benevolently–from the "Cruelty Society' s" office into this den of wretched, sore-eyed starvlings.
The little Princes of the Tower were smothered quickly. Why, O ye managers, why was it necessary to put out little "Tahmmy's" eyes with slow, exquisite torture? Julian was in misery as he regarded these victims of philanthropy. His vocation seemed to have turned into a demon's opportunity. In fact, the charity of a Christian public could hardly be said to have exhibited a much higher sense of responsibility toward these children than their drunken mother had formerly evolved. If left to herself, might she not have done as well? Might she not have risen to the benign tenderness of flinging one child into the mill-grind of a reformatory and the other over the blank wall of a city poorhouse–even though she groped her way without the moral stimulus of adding two more children to the thousands rescued to adorn the pages of an Annual Report? These reflections made Julian very sick at heart. And as for Martha–ah, poor Martha!
He was glad she was far away in the home of a Mennonite widow, who was now instructing her in the duties of motherhood and the mysteries of the multiplication table at a cost to the Association of two dollars per week. He could postpone the painful news that one brother was lost and the other dead until it was time to visit her. In the meantime, Martha, without knowing it, was relieved of the burden of self support, and was given time for moral and mental growth, the arrangement being the result of a vigorous wrestling match between Julian and his conscientious managers, who had not yet lived down a deeply rooted conviction that their first duty to the public was to get something for nothing; the second being to invest a large balance in mortgages at the end of every year. Julian argued that society owed Martha for those early years of toil on a truck farm during which she had borne all the burdens of life. He figured it out in dollars and cents, showing a large balance in Martha's favor.
"Society," he explained with cunning plausibility, "had robbed her of her childhood and had then mortgaged her future to cover the cost of her board and lodging while she was yet a child. Her present helpless condition expressed the terms of the mortgage–with the interest added."
This was convincing, because many of the managers knew a great deal more about mortgages than they did about homeless children–though this does not imply that their knowledge of financial operations was extensive. They felt a renewed confidence in their young secretary who could thus reduce the moral problems of the world to terms comprehensible to a commercial intelligence, and they repeated his remarks to their husbands, who nodded approval with the dull stare that they always bestowed on philanthropic schemes which they felt bound–for some inexplicable reason–to support.
Julian made his plans to call on Marian Starling at the appointed time. As he drew near the house, the light of a street lamp revealed a physician's sign on the window sill. He looked at the initials which he was aware were those of Marian's husband. Her delicate personality did not harmonize in his mind with the idea of a husband–even in the abstract. There was about her a subtle air of detachment which seemed to assert that she belonged exclusively to herself.
He was shown into an apartment at the head of the first flight of stairs, where he found Marian seated by an open piano. Gertrude was also in the room, reading a novel by the light of a rose-shaded lamp. She accosted him, but quickly disappeared, throwing a peculiar glance over her shoulder at her sister to express commiseration for martyrs who are to be subjected to the terrors of boredom; but it awakened no shadow of response in her sister's face, which remained sweetly and hospitably eloquent.
Julian was aware of the presence of flowers in odd corners, of rare pictures looking down from the walls, of rich rugs under his feet, and of books and portfolios of music lying open and accessible. His eyes fastened immediately on the white-robed figure of Marian advancing to meet him–surely a tender, beautiful incarnation of womanhood, if not a holy priestess at the shrine of music!
Marian greeted him in a low voice, as if shy of revealing the world of expression that lay in her fuller tones. They stood together by the piano before which Julian begged her to be re-seated. He asked her to go on with the song she had been practicing.
There was no reason why Marian should have blushed deeply when she began to sing before this unsophisticated young man. It was not because she feared his criticism or distrusted her control over her highly cultivated voice. She had sung at public concerts without embarrassment. Perhaps she became conscious that she was addressing a nature that might recognize her gift of song as a personal revelation. All her life she had felt that her song had fallen on deaf ears–it was as if she had been offering flowers to the blind, and incense to the insensible–but now it seemed that she was speaking face to face and eye to eye in a language that was understood. All this she explained to Julian afterward. Never before had the exquisite and touching quality of her voice carried such meaning; as it mounted from lower note to higher it seemed to gather up all the pathos of life.
"Behold the sorrows of the universe!" it said. "Behold my secret sorrow–and yours!" it cried to Julian.the lament was not in the words; neither was it wrought by the composer into the phrases of his music; it was the message of the voice itself. As Julian listened, all that he had felt and suffered in his chosen work rushed back to him, humanity's passionate cry clutched his heart as if he were indeed a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
But when Marian ceased singing and turned her eyes upon him with a rather wistful smile, not as if she sought applause, but rather as if she wanted to escape from the emotions she had raised within herself, the sorrows of the world–the irony of civilization's boastfully recorded charities–its unnumbered cruelties–faded away like a dream. He held his breath, and as he followed with his eyes the hand she laid upon the bosom of her gown–she was plucking it in an embarrassment that was new to her–he was mindful only of the supreme claims of the individual to escape the universal destiny.
"Music is the speech of the unhappy," Marian said, suddenly pushing herself from the piano. "The joyousness in it is only the joy we have missed."
"Few of us know what we have missed," said Julian; but he knew that he was merely repeating something he had read, and he blushed for the truism.
"Happy are they who never find out!" she answered, looking into his eyes. She asked if he could play an accompaniment. He offered to try, and they began a serenade together. It was as if they had started on a flight through the upper harmonies, and could look down upon strife and sin below, the echoes of which reached their ears without disturbing their enjoyment.
"It is hateful to sing to one's own accompaniment," Marian sighed softly.
"It is hateful to play alone," said Julian, thinking of the cheaply hired piano that stood in his lonely bed chamber. Later in the evening it was disclosed that Julian had studied the violin and flute, though sadly out of practice on either, and Marian knew several lovely trios.
Another engagement was made for another musical evening; and when Julian stepped out into the night he felt with a wave of thankfulness that he had at last returned to a world of art and beauty after a long period of suspended animation underground. He would be glad to return to his work on the morrow, but the discovery that it was unwholesome to remain always buried alive in one's task was surely significant and prophetic of great results.
The weeks flew by; Julian was now living in two worlds, without consciousness of a dual personality. In truth he was not much given to self-analysis. He was accustomed to say that he hoped he had a soul, but so far, it had never manifested itself in the way psychologists delight to describe. He did not know that it might not rise into consciousness some day like an old-fashioned, punctilious ghost, whose time for appearing and disappearing had been set between the tolling of the bell and the crowing of the cock; but neither of these signals had as yet been sounded in his experience. Or it might be, he said, that a soul like a healthy organ in a healthy body could give no hint of its existence until affected by some unhappy malady, and by this hypothesis it were better to leave well enough alone.
The champions of moral progress are not often of a subjective cast of mind. When one imagines that one is made use of as a regenerating force, self-love is imperiled; there is little time for self-culture, and the sweet graces that win popularity are too often left to take care of themselves. Whatever charm of personality existed in Julian he had done all in his power to destroy by overwork and anxiety.
But now his youthfulness blossomed suddenly into an artist's intense enjoyment. Into his starved musician's soul came the joy of sharing things of beauty with a lover of beauty as reverent as himself.
Many evenings were spent in Marian's parlor by the side of the open piano, and often in the unobtrusive presence of an old music teacher who played a piano accompaniment whenever Julian chose to experiment on the flute or violin. These attempts were sometimes provocative of laughter from Marian; but her tuneful nature–even in its merriest moments–never laughed at, but always with her comrades, and thus added archly to the general harmony. But often they drew from her eyes a quick look of wonder and appreciation, while the grey-haired master gave a nod of approval to many a passage which Julian executed with fire and delicacy.
Life seemed to be arranging itself on a basis of scales, chromatic chords and discords, out of which Julian found himself evolving delicious harmonies. A fatiguing, running accompaniment of heavy work, including much painful scrutiny of pitiful life; tragedies, affected him as would a series of complicated arpeggios requiring flying leaps of action, such as Chopin builds for his exquisite and most difficult nocturnes; to his artistic soul this seemed a masterful groundwork, above which now soared the new and lovely melodies of his life–like the song of birds in the tree tops of a dense forest.
Never, however, did he go to Marian's house unbidden, except on one occasion when he was not admitted, although her voice floated distinctly down the stairway to his ear. His visits were arranged to avoid interference with her other engagements, of which he knew she had many. Thus he avoided an awkward meeting of strangers, and Marian was able to give him her undivided attention for whole evenings. On Sunday he met her often on the street, sometimes walking with a tall, dark man whose deep-set, fierce-looking eyes were fixed upon her face. Julian supposed him to he her husband until he met Dr. Starling soon afterward in his own house. Their intercourse was formal and infrequent. He often heard the doctor's footsteps about the house, and occasionally his voice addressing patients in tones that were depressingly cold and measured. Marian told him that the doctor had no comprehension of music and was rather annoyed by it than otherwise. So the parlor door was generally closed when the music lovers played their trios.
The tall dark man sank into ignominy when Marian explained that he was a morbid creature who could find nothing in the world worth living for, and was bored to the point of extinction even when she exerted herself heroically to interest him. It was her kindly ambition to bring him to a sense of obligation to the world around him, but so far her efforts had been unsuccessful. But one day she startled Julian by alluding to the bored stranger as her "evil genius," to which Julian replied playfully that he had supposed her role to be that of an admonitory angel; it was confusing to picture supernatural beings holding such involved relationships! One should eliminate the other.
"Have you never pitied Mephistopheles?" asked Marian looking away from him with a dreamy expression. "Suppose an angel had descended to help that wretched, sinsatiated creature !"
"To fight him, you mean," said Julian, laughing, but glancing behind her somewhat uneasily, as if half expecting to discover a shadowy form at the back of her chair.
"He is not there." she said, smiling; "but if he were, this would put him to flight."
She struck the opening chords of the celebrated large of Handel's, and Julian picking up his violin to accompany her, dismissed his uncomfortable fancies. At any rate, the evil genius could not play a note of Handel's; he would not live alone in boredom if music were within his reach.
In Julian's other world, it might he said that the shadows were not quite as black as they had been. Emergencies were not as much the order of the day as formerly; misfortunes were to be expected, but it was certainly the part of wisdom to introduce a little philosophy into one s contemplation of them. The woes of humanity which Julian carried so close to his heart had become a somewhat more adjustable burden; the load could now be shifted about, and there were times when it could be shoved altogether out of sight.
It was odd that among his assistants, Elizabeth should stand forth as the most helpful. More and more Julian began to depend upon her for the performance of difficult tasks. If a run away boy were to be apprehended, Elizabeth was found to he the one who could be counted upon to return with the boy held fast by the hand. If there were crying children to be soothed, Elizabeth, detached from her writing and sent upstairs, produced a dove-like peace in three minutes. When it was a question of eliciting confidences, it was Elizabeth's ear that received the pitiful tale or the long-hidden, childish ambition to break down barriers and achieve the impossible. And yet one could not discern what was the Russian maid's secret of power. So silent–so self-repressed was she–a quick glance of her eyes was often her only response when she arose to execute Julian's commands. Her stock of sympathy could not be described as abundant; or possibly her ability to express it was weak. In dealing with children she may have found channels of expression unknown to other adult mortals; but when Julian followed her, as he did once through curiosity, he found the same inexpressive Elizabeth; the children were crowding fearlessly against her, but her only form of communication with them seemed to he a series of abrupt questions and answers, such as shy, strange children address to each other when they first meet.
Julian found it often convenient to require heavier tasks of Elizabeth than he would have deemed prudent to ask of any other assistant. She never rebelled, and he thought it probable that she suffered less through her sympathies than the others. She was not given to headaches, she was innocent of hysterics, and she appeared to be indifferent to the length of a day's service. It was only when summer had set in, that Julian noticed with some remorse that her color was fading and her young face looking thin and tired.
It was the season for holidays, but on broaching the subject, he discovered that Elizabeth's only plan was to visit a farmer's wife with whom she had once lived in a state of partial servitude, and whom she personally disliked. Julian then appealed to his mother, and drew such a pathetic picture of Elizabeth's friendlessness, that the good lady wrote back promptly inviting Elizabeth to spend two weeks with her. This was a charitable offer, and Julian exerted himself to bring about its acceptance. Finding the young Russian exposed to demur, he asserted the authority of a guardian and asked her to prepare a letter of acceptance. He made some corrections; the letter was mailed, and a few days later Elizabeth was put on the train that was to carry her to Julian's quiet country home in the interior of New York state.
ROLLING hills, little lakes and patches of hop vineyards lay around the white homestead of the Endicotts in a country bearing an Indian name. The house lay between two well-known summer resorts–one sixteen miles off and the other many more. Sometimes, adventurous coaches filled with gay city folk followed the hilly road past the home of the widow Endicott, whose old-fashioned, profusely filled flower garden beyond the white fence often attracted the careless wonder of the passengers. Their acquaintance with country people being confined to the heroes and heroines of certain New England stories, their imaginations peopled the smiling landscape with the types which such tales have made familiar. To their minds such cold, dry folk could have nothing in common with the bright flowers which must have sprung up of their own sweet will, in spite of the withering glances cast upon them by the unlovely beings whose homes they adorned.
But it was to escape the barrenness of the New England soil that so many of her sons had settled on the highlands of the two great middle states of the Union. When they transformed the forest-clad slopes into velvety pastures and yellow fields of grain–audaciously standing on end as if the hills had pitched them forward in a peal of laughter–they had no intention of reproducing the hard conditions of their forefathers.
The pulse of the national life bounded through them warmly and abundantly; the sunniness of their new home planted flowers inside and out; it carpeted the floors and curtained the windows; it built the frequent school house and its cheerful neighbor with the spire pointing a white finger towards a sky that was mirrored in the valleys and on the hills in countless little lakes. Their social life was blossoming into a rustic culture as simple and hardy as the flowers by the roadside. Their newspapers and periodicals were keeping them in touch with the world's progress; their numerous well-fed horses–home raised, the pride of every household–carried families from village to county seat, from sociable to picnic and camp meeting, and made lectures, concerts and political meetings no longer forbidden fruit to the women.
In their growing fastidiousness, the farmers threw their barns across the road and often to a considerable distance, in striking contrast to the fashion of their Massachusetts cousin, whose buildings are still hugged to his heart as if he fears an unfriendly fate is waiting a chance to rob him.
The sweet, wholesome goodness of Julian's mother was entirely in keeping with these surroundings. She was as much a product of them as the red-cheeked apples in her orchard, or the aromatic hop vines that climbed tall poles in rectangular profusion across the road. There was nothing about her to indicate the remotest relationship to the grim, angular countrywoman whose bleak countenance we contemplate so wearily in fiction. Equally far removed was she from the vulgar, florid personage who "calkerlates" everything in our literature, from the duality of her pumpkin pies to the limitations of God's mercy. Is it true, O ye authors, that God can make a sunflower and a clever sort of hollyhock to adorn a country landscape, but that the violet, the narcissus and the rose are to be gathered only in the hot-houses of man, between glaring city walls and sun-baked brick pavements echoing with the tramp of commercial feet?
Not being manufactured to sell to the magazines, but having grown up at random, as it were, with no one to select a dialect for her from the pages of a successful novel, Julian's mother appeared at middle age as a cheery, soft-eyed gentlewoman with an impulsive manner toward friends and a shy air of reserve toward strangers, in whose presence she blushed and fluttered like a timid school girl. It is true that her vocabulary was limited. She was accustomed to say that she knew the meaning of many long words when she came across them in reading that she presumed she wouldn't feel acquainted with if she were to meet them in a spelling book; but this only proved that she read intelligently in spite of a limited scholarship. Nearly every other day brought a part of her library by mail–a bi-weekly from the great city newspapers, or a Farmer's Home Journal, or a Floral Cultivator, a Poultry Fancier, or a local record of events in the county. All of these she diligently perused in the evening by the light of the hanging-lamp. A system of exchange with neighbors brought other periodicals within reach, so that her stock of reading material was really extensive, though it was not exactly academic in style, and did not include a knowledge of life based chiefly on disproportion. It may be, however, as profitable to study an improved diet for chickens or a new scourge for rose bugs, as to contemplate the lives of impossible young persons whose sole business in life being to make love, do it so badly that five hundred pages are too few to tell the sad mess they make of it.
Julian's father had possessed the tastes of a naturalist and he had acquired during his lifetime considerable skill as a taxidermist. Julian remembered him as a thoughtful, spare man, whose kind, observant eyes saw more in the fields than his prospective crops. The house was still full of his treasures; motionless squirrels cracked nuts from corner shelves in bedroom and parlor; beavers, lizards, raccoons, robins, woodpeckers and owls crowded every closet and book shelf, their glass eyes staring a steady surprise at the intruder.
When Elizabeth arrived, she spent much of her time examining these curiosities, and she found a strange delight in stroking the furry backs and shining plumage of wild things that no longer started from her in terror. There were drawers full of Indian relics and cases of beades and butterflies, carefully numbered and named, and the widow was greatly pleased at Elizabeth's notice of them. While she was busily spelling out the names, the widow was studying the little maid of the loving care that her husband had been used to bestow on a new specimen from his fields. She was seeking not to classify but to understand Elizabeth. In her eyes it was no fault to be silent, for she was accustomed to the presence of dumb creatures. Elizabeth was an undomesticated young thing and perhaps might be wooed into nearness by much the same methods one uses toward a wood pigeon. All the young Russian's life had been spent among strangers–with them, yet not of them–a member of the household, but not of the home. But as she now felt the difference in her surroundings, she became more inscrutable than ever.
The widow planned little excursions for her, and when Julian arrived a few days later she often sent them away to seek entertainment together. But Elizabeth's shy dark eyes still continued to make an appeal which the widow was unable to understand.
Back of the house and at the end of the orchard there was a little lake, nameless except for its association with an old hermit, who many years ago had lived in a cabin by the water's edge. It was a solitary piece of water; Julian's boat was almost the only one to be found on its shores except when the fishermen came in the early fall to catch bass.
Julian had been rowing Elizabeth one afternoon from one end of this lake to the other. He was glad to rest his oars while she reached after water lilies that were growing near.
Elizabeth arranged her flowers and Julian fixed his eyes across the water on a distant meadow in the center of which an elm tree reared its feathery outlines against the sky. It was a familiar landmark; he had often wondered at its suggestion of loneliness and poetic feeling. Like himself, it seemed to have strayed from its fellows; it stood as if lost in spiritual contemplation, between earth and sky. But just now Julian failed to notice the beauty of this tree; in fact the whole landscape was like a curtain that shut off a picture on which his thoughts constantly dwelt.
Beyond the curtaining landscape lay the real scene of his thoughts–a conventional garden with a narrow white path leading between heavily laden rose bushes to the low bay window of a country house. It was Marian's country home, a few miles out of the city, where Julian had spent many happy hours before dragging himself away to visit his mother. There, on a rustic bench, he could distinctly see the form of Marian–now with the moonlight falling on her face. Her voice–her exquisite speaking voice–was in his ear. But why should the thought of that spot, the remembrance of the voice and even the scent of the roses cause him an anguish to which every added detail brought an extra pang?
Julian's mother an hour before had alluded playfully to his bringing home a young wife to share their simple interests. The words had shocked him inexpressibly. A wife–a stranger–to intrude into his life–and Marian left standing alone in her garden with a smile on her lips–what a revolting thought! A step forward saw Marian revealed as if by a flash of lightning–in his arms as the bride of his mother's fancy ! An impossible vision–an unholy dream–he knew it to be.
In anguish, Julian broke up this tableau of his unruly imagination, and saw himself–still in sight of the garden–making one of a lingering procession of sorrowful figures whose wistful eyes were fixed like his on a beloved, unattainable object. Had he then joined the ranks of the unfortunates who share the hopeless passion of the Petrarchs, the Tassos, the Dantes of history? As he gazed longingly at his rose garden and its occupant, he caught his breath sharply and turned his eyes away from the hills and meadow, beyond which his boyish soul saw stretching out before him an appalling fate.
His strained look fell suddenly upon Elizabeth's face–he was startled by its expression. She was looking at him with the same intense absorption that was in his own eyes when they were gazing across the lake. Her young face was full of pain, as if indeed she saw that same procession which had filled his soul with dismay. Quickly their eyes met; they both looked away. Julian's heart leaped with kindness towards the desolate young creature. He exerted himself to distract her thoughts.
"How decidedly grown up you look this summer," he said with an effort at brightness and careless of what he said. "The next thing will be that I shall be asked to give you away in marriage–what a dreadful possibility, Elizabeth!"
"Do the waifs ever marry?" she asked with what seemed to him a rather unnatural gravity. "The managers say they are not to have lovers–it's one of their rules that I copied in typewriting."
Julian frowned a little. "While they're very young and in experienced such rules are necessary, but of course we know that they cannot remain children all their lives." It was a point of etiquette, but an exceedingly tiresome one, to assume that all the views of the managers were his own.
"But they remain waifs all their lives–nobody ever forgets that ! Nobody ever will forget as long as I live that I was one of the waifs !"
Julian was startled at the energy of her tone. Her face was as pale as the wet lillies in her hand.
"I thought you had outgrown that morbid fancy, Elizabeth," he answered reproachfully. "You are self-supporting and capable of making your way anywhere. I–that is, the Association–have advised your employment in the office because we wish to stand between you and the cold world a little longer. We are very proud of you–you mustn't forget that, Elizabeth–you do us infinite credit."
"I ought to be put in a case," she interrupted with an odd, shy smile, that had only the barest suggestion of mirth in it. "I know that's why they want me there–to point me out to strangers as one of the results of their work."
"What nonsense!" Julian cried half angrily; but he could not contradict her because he knew it to be true.
"Why should you look upon it as a degradation to have been under our care? It has been our greatest happiness to do the little we have done ! You have brightened our existence; why can't you be generous enough to accept what we have given as though it came from your parents?"
In his spirit of self-abnegation, Julian had schooled himself to credit all his performances to the Association–which was not as great a hardship as shouldering all their blunders–but this transfer of feeling and sentiment to an impersonal organization was stretching a transparent fiction to ridiculous limits, and Elizabeth evidently felt it to be so. She raised her head a little and looked at him with an air of childish defiance.
"I could never have had eighteen parents!"
"Eighteen? Oh, yes–I see; but why stop there? If you count the managers separately, you must also count the twelve trustees, and add to them the twelve hundred regular subscribers and the six hundred or so irregular contributors–eighteen hundred and thirty–and I may add my humble, unworthy self, may I not?–making eighteen hundred and thirty-one parents. Well, I agree with you, that is rather a cumbersome lot to regard with filial devotion!"
"Well, you see, then,"–Elizabeth looked at him with her queer little wistful smile, ignoring his attempt to be merry. "You see they can't be the same–as parents"
"No, not precisely the same, you child. But if we do our best, Elizabeth, to make up for our unhappy mongrel, plural condition, may we not receive just a scrap of consolation from the fact that you are a little better off than you would have been without us?" He bent toward her, but the "us" evidently hurt her.
She turned her face toward the meadow and looked steadily at the elm tree. Julian looked at it also, and as he gazed he slowly forgot his part in the conversation as the overwhelming pain of his thoughts returned to him. As he looked at the tree, it appeared to him strangely as an emblem of suffering–almost as significant as the cross itself! In some strange manner, the elm seemed to communicate from one to the other the sorrow and loneliness that were in the hearts of these two young persons. Julian turned upon Elizabeth his sad eyes. Elizabeth suddenly faced him with quivering lips.
"I cannot love the whole eighteen hundred and thirty-one–not even if you tell me I must," she broke out passionately. The poor child was trembling with suppressed feeling.
"I never expected you to, Elizabeth; I was only making a very sorry jest at your expense. Forgive me, I know–I understand all that you have lost and suffered." He was very much stirred and deeply ashamed of his callousness in having wounded her.
"I am not ungrateful, but I am grateful only to you, for it is you who have done everything for me. I could love you as I would my parents, but the others–never!"
"I know well enough what the human heart craves," Julian answered, looking at her with a kind of dejected seriousness. "I know well enough what you have missed. God grant that you may find something some day to take its place. He surely has that compensation in store for you." His eyes took in her neat, graceful figure as he spoke, her delicate profile with its background of dark heavy hair–but he had already said more on the subject of lovers than was discreet in addressing a waif–so he fell back on more commonplace consolation.
"You have my warmest gratitude for the assistance you give me in the office; nobody can fill your place there, Elizabeth. You are my real right hand. Is it any wonder that I do not want you to escape from the clutch of the eighteen hundred and thirty-one parents? No, not for a long while yet!"
Elizabeth smiled with joy, a faint color warming her cold face into positive beauty.
"You do not understand what it is to be a waif, but I am willing to remain one if I can be a help to you. I am not going to mind so much being called a waif in the future. I will remember that you want me to be one, for of course I shall always have to be one while I stay in the office."
"It seems best for you to stay there," he answered with some faint appreciation that her spirit of self-sacrifice was too great for the occasion–too great for her own good–too great for the development of that so-called "self-reliance" which philanthropy affects to cultivate in the minds of the poor–yet had he not been trying to force from her an acknowledgment of her dependence on the good intentions of the Association?
"How difficult it is to preserve just the right attitude toward the object of our benevolence," he thought; "and how much more difficult it must be for the object to attain the point of view acceptable to the philanthropist!"
He felt uncomfortable and hypocritical under Elizabeth's sweet glance of gratitude; he took for granted that it expressed only gratitude. Her air of childlike purity and candor forbade any other interpretation, and no other occurred to him. To distract her thoughts and his own, he rowed her to another part of the lake, where she was soon busy selecting a variety of pink water lillies which called from her ardent exclamations of delight. Never had he seen Elizabeth so free from self-restraint, so gaily happy, so much like other pretty young girls as she now appeared to him–so little like a waif !
As he observed her with a kind of melancholy interest in which his own pain was not wholly forgotten, he, resolved that this shy, lovely, young girl should have all the chivalrous protection that he could throw around her, and surely she must remain in that office under his own watchful gaze, for how else could he protect her thoroughly? In fact, she had no other background than that afforded by the Association. It was an artificial setting for her young life, but she was cut off from all natural relationships and this was all that was left to her. Moreover, out of it grew all his rights as her guardian. It was pleasant to think of himself as her guardian and he was glad that she had at last accepted the situation as the best one for her, under the circumstances.
That afternoon, Julian harnessed up the horses and took his mother and Elizabeth to a Sunday school picnic in a neighboring woods. They sat upon roughly-made plank benches and listened to the usual singing of hymns, extemporaneous prayers and addresses. The proceedings were tiresome enough to Julian. The speakers said the same things over and over, and said them badly. Their phraseology was as loose and ill-fitting as their clothes, he thought. It was remarkable how badly country people contrived to dress. He looked around on the assembly and contrasted them with the civilians he had just left. If all their clothing were thrown into a heap and each man were to pick out a suit that fitted him, no doubt in the general exchange many would appear to better advantage. That stout man over yonder, for instance, would look comparatively well if dressed in his right-hand neighbor's suit, for his own was unquestionably too small for him.
Julian happened to glance toward the platform and looked into the familiar, kindly old face of his father's life-long friend and neighbor, Israel Hilton, who had been speaking for some minutes and was now looking directly into Julian's eyes. The old man was giving utterance to the identical thoughts that were occupying Julian's mind at that moment.
"I do not want to take up your time, friends, with apologies for my poor speaking. You all know how bad it is; but you're used to it like you are to the sight of my Sunday clothes, and you can make allowances for you know what I am trying to get at, else you wouldn't have asked me to speak. But when we have among us a young man who's used to city ways, even though he's no stranger to any of us, then my tongue is bound to stumble more than common, and I don't seem to get hold of any words that fit the idea any more than this old suit, that lies in the camphor chest all week, fits me when I get into it for an occasion like this." He looked about him with a pathetic half smile. His flushed, weather-beaten, finely-cut old face became suddenly illumined. He looked again at Julian, his blue eyes bright with feeling.
"But I'm done with my foolish apologies; they're the token of the love we bear ourselves–we poor old farmers! Ah ! we're a selfish, cold-blooded set! There's no love for humanity in our hearts. An' right now I'm lookin' into the face of one who went out from us a few years ago a mere boy, an' made his way to that great City o' Sin, an' took right holt an' wrestled with wrong and spread love and joy into human hearts. You all know who I mean. It's him you want to hear from, not me. We're all proud of him. We know his goodness is the <em>genuine</em> article; for we know he comes by it honestly through his father an' mother. Step right up here, Julian Endicott! You that knows how to turn the love of God into the love of man, you step up here an' tell us old fellows how to get away from the selfishness of Cain. 'Am I my brother's keeper?' we says to ourselves. That ain't what Julian says! Come up here an' let the beautiful holy light from the good works of the Good Samaritans stream into our selfish hearts!" With tears in his eyes the feeble old farmer waved to Julian to ascend the platform and reluctantly Julian obeyed.
He was not embarrassed at the thought of addressing this rural multitude, for they were old acquaintances from the days of his early childhood. He stood in awe of none of them. Yet he hung his head as he faced an audience palpably glowing with the expectation of hearing noble deeds recounted, an exalted altruism preached to them as a new gospel. He leaped to the amiable determination that he would not lie to these simple-minded rustics.
He began to speak quickly, his words coming easily with gestures natural and simple. Half conscious was he that he might have made a success of any profession that afforded scope for his oratorical powers–his mother had always prayed that he might be a clergyman–why, then, had he chosen the trade of professional philanthropy? The hateful term was a drag to his thoughts–nay, it was filling his throat and threatening to choke him. He hardly knew what he was saying, so filled was he with self-disgust. He came to a stop and his eyes fell on the upturned, devoted faces of his mother and Elizabeth. He looked into the face of the young girl and read therein a poem of tender reverence and gratitude. No speech of hers had ever been half as articulate as that upward look. It touched and thrilled his foolish pride, his manly egotism, and then its white flame of faith burned his soul into truthfulness. So he went on:
"Mr. Hilton has spoken of my vocation in exalted terms. Well, I am going to tell you the truth about it. In the city, there are the two extremes of the rich and the poor, as far apart as the poles. The rich want to help the poor, but they can't even touch them with the tips of their fingers. Now what am I? A connecting link–a creature hired by the rich to administer the <em>personal touch</em> of which you hear so much cant in charitable circles. Friends, my part is a humble one! I distribute another man's bounty with all the Christian grace I can command. Isn't that a noble vocation? But if I am ever of any service to humanity I shall owe it to this community in which I grew up–seeing charity administered by the charitable themselves and not by hirelings; seeing men judged by their personal sacrifices and not by the amount of money they contribute to a cause. All my best inspirations come from these scenes, so do not depreciate your simple lives to me! I do not know what would become of me if I had not the remembrance of them in my heart! I want to be worthy of your friendship always. This–this will be the light on my path when I return! The only light to keep me from straying after false gods!"
Julian sprang abruptly from the platform to the ground. He told his mother in a hurried aside that he was going to look after the horses–it was time to feed them–and he withdrew into the woods some distance from the crowd, conscious that he left a mystified and disappointed audience behind him.
After the horses were fed and watered, Julian stood stroking their noses and patting their necks. Suddenly he struck his hand forcibly against the rough bark of the tree to which the horses were tied. The action and the hurt relieved the tension of his thoughts, for he smiled grinily at his bruised hand and went on stroking the horses' noses.
"Why did I not tell them the truth? All my zeal for humanity is centered in her–in Marian–another man's wife! Good God ! what a situation ! I wanted to shout it out to the crowd yonder. I feel as if it were written on my forehead in letters of fire. How strange that no one knows it! No–not even <em>she</em> herself; she shall <em>never</em> know it!"
A band of young people rushed forward and dragged Julian back with them to partake of lemonade and cake, and to share their country games. They treated him as if he were a superior being, which increased his desperate shame-facedness. He was glad when the time came to hitch the horses to his mother's wagon and start for home.
The next morning Julian told his mother that he believed manual labor to be the best cure for an overtaxed brain, and he plunged into haymaking with something of the zest of his boyhood days. He put on a blue gingham shirt, drew on overalls that he had not worn for years, and pulled on a pair of farmer's boots in which he could ford a stream without wetting his feet. Elizabeth eyed with wonder this transformation of the young secretary into a field hand.
"We farmers look better in our working clothes," he said, in indifferent response to her shy comments. "It takes a leisure class to look well in its Sunday suit. In fact, one needs to make a business of Sunday clothes and wear them every day in the week to look as well in them as they do in the city." His neat, well-fitting civilian's suit seemed to bear a certain relation to his morbid self-consciousness, his newly attained conviction of sin. He chose to regard it with scorn as it hung from a nail in his bed chamber.
His mother rejoiced at the brownness of his cheeks and the return of his appetite. When she laid before him the problems which had been accumulating for his consideration for several months he solved them with the same off-hand readiness that had always characterized his judgment of such matters. It was forever to be relied on; many a Gordian knot of buttermaking, sheepraising, seeding, planting and harvesting was cut during their homely evening talks. Yet how he knew all these things so unerringly was one of the mysteries over which she had long pondered.
The day came for Elizabeth's return to the city, and Julian and his mother drove with her to the station. Elizabeth's shyness had worn off to the extent of returning a girlish smile for the gentle smile of the widow. When the latter took possession of her hand as she sometimes did when they sat side by side, Elizabeth suffered it to remain and returned the pressure timidly.
She had been very silent in the carriage and when Julian lifted her out she turned a cold, pale cheek to his mother, who kissed her goodbye. Julian called to her to follow him as the train was in sight. She obeyed, but stopped suddenly to look back; she hesitated, and in an instant was at the widow's side with her arms around her neck. Her young heart was as lonely as the steppes of Russia, but she was used to loneliness. What spring of feeling within her had given way to cause such passionate tears? She was still sobbing when Julian led her away and placed her on board the train. He was touched, of course, by her emotion. He returned to his mother as the train moved slowly off. They both watched it sadly as it vanished with Elizabeth into the distant hills.