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to the lights on the boats of the East River. From below in the
streets came the rattle of hurrying omnibuses and the rush of the
hansom cabs. If Mr. Caruthers was surprised at this late visit, he hid
it, and came forward to receive his caller as if his presence were
expected.

"Excuse my costume, will you?" he said. "I turned in rather early
to-night, it was so hot." He pointed to a decanter and some soda
bottles on the table and a bowl of ice, and asked, "Will you have some
of this?" And while he opened one of the bottles, he watched Van
Bibber's face as though he were curious to have him explain the object
of his visit.

"No, I think not, thank you," said the younger man. He touched his
forehead with his handkerchief nervously. "Yes, it is hot," he said.

Mr. Caruthers filled a glass with ice and brandy and soda, and walked
back to his place by the mantel, on which he rested his arm, while he
clinked the ice in the glass and looked down into it.

"I was at the first night of 'The Sultana' this evening," said Van
Bibber, slowly and uncertainly.

"Oh, yes," assented the elder man, politely, and tasting his drink.
"Lester's new piece. Was it any good?"

"I don't know," said Van Bibber. "Yes, I think it was. I didn't see it
from the front. There were a lot of children in it - little ones; they
danced and sang, and made a great hit. One of them had never been on
the stage before. It was her first appearance."

He was turning one of the glasses around between his fingers as he
spoke. He stopped, and poured out some of the soda, and drank it down
in a gulp, and then continued turning the empty glass between the tips
of his fingers.

"It seems to me," he said, "that it is a great pity." He looked up
interrogatively at the other man, but Mr. Caruthers met his glance
without any returning show of interest. "I say," repeated Van
Bibber - "I say it seems a pity that a child like that should be
allowed to go on in that business. A grown woman can go into it with
her eyes open, or a girl who has had decent training can too. But it's
different with a child. She has no choice in the matter; they don't
ask her permission; and she isn't old enough to know what it means;
and she gets used to it and fond of it before she grows to know what
the danger is. And then it's too late. It seemed to me that if there
was any one who had a right to stop it, it would be a very good thing
to let that person know about her - about this child, I mean; the one
who made the hit - before it was too late. It seems to me a
responsibility I wouldn't care to take myself. I wouldn't care to
think that I had the chance to stop it, and had let the chance go by.
You know what the life is, and what the temptation a woman - " Van
Bibber stopped with a gasp of concern, and added, hurriedly, "I mean
we all know - every man knows."

Mr. Caruthers was looking at him with his lips pressed closely
together, and his eyebrows drawn into the shape of the letter V. He
leaned forward, and looked at Van Bibber intently.

"What is all this about?" he asked. "Did you come here, Mr. Van
Bibber, simply to tell me this? What have you to do with it? What have
I to do with it? Why did you come?"

"Because of the child."

"What child?"

"Your child." said Van Bibber.

Young Van Bibber was quite prepared for an outbreak of some sort, and
mentally braced himself to receive it. He rapidly assured himself that
this man had every reason to be angry, and that he, if he meant to
accomplish anything, had every reason to be considerate and patient.
So he faced Mr. Caruthers with shoulders squared, as though it were a
physical shock he had to stand against, and in consequence he was
quite unprepared for what followed. For Mr. Caruthers raised his face
without a trace of feeling in it, and, with his eyes still fixed on
the glass in his hand, set it carefully down on the mantel beside
him, and girded himself about with the rope of his robe. When he
spoke, it was in a tone of quiet politeness.

"Mr. Van Bibber," he began, "you are a very brave young man. You have
dared to say to me what those who are my best friends - what even my
own family would not care to say. They are afraid it might hurt me, I
suppose. They have some absurd regard for my feelings; they hesitate
to touch upon a subject which in no way concerns them, and which they
know must be very painful to me. But you have the courage of your
convictions; you have no compunctions about tearing open old wounds;
and you come here, unasked and uninvited, to let me know what you
think of my conduct, to let me understand that it does not agree with
your own ideas of what I ought to do, and to tell me how I, who am old
enough to be your father, should behave. You have rushed in where
angels fear to tread, Mr. Van Bibber, to show me the error of my ways.
I suppose I ought to thank you for it; but I have always said that it
is not the wicked people who are to be feared in this world, or who do
the most harm. We know them; we can prepare for them, and checkmate
them. It is the well-meaning fool who makes all the trouble. For no
one knows him until he discloses himself, and the mischief is done
before he can be stopped. I think, if you will allow me to say so,
that you have demonstrated my theory pretty thoroughly and have done
about as much needless harm for one evening as you can possibly wish.
And so, if you will excuse me," he continued, sternly, and moving from
his place, "I will ask to say good-night, and will request of you that
you grow older and wiser and much more considerate before you come to
see me again."

Van Bibber had flushed at Mr. Caruthers's first words, and had then
grown somewhat pale, and straightened himself visibly. He did not move
when the elder man had finished, but cleared his throat, and then
spoke with some little difficulty. "It is very easy to call a man a
fool," he said, slowly, "but it is much harder to be called a fool and
not to throw the other man out of the window. But that, you see, would
not do any good, and I have something to say to you first. I am quite
clear in my own mind as to my position, and I am not going to allow
anything you have said or can say to annoy me much until I am through.
There will be time enough to resent it then. I am quite well aware
that I did an unconventional thing in coming here - a bold thing or a
foolish thing, as you choose - but the situation is pretty bad, and I
did as I would have wished to be done by if I had had a child going to
the devil and didn't know it. I should have been glad to learn of it
even from a stranger. However," he said, smiling grimly, and pulling
his cape about him, "there are other kindly disposed people in the
world besides fathers. There is an aunt, perhaps, or an uncle or two;
and sometimes, even to-day, there is the chance Samaritan."

Van Bibber picked up his high hat from the table, looked into it
critically, and settled it on his head. "Good-night," he said, and
walked slowly towards the door. He had his hand on the knob, when Mr.
Caruthers raised his head.

"Wait just one minute, please, Mr. Van Bibber?" asked Mr. Caruthers.

Van Bibber stopped with a prompt obedience which would have led one to
conclude that be might have put on his hat only to precipitate
matters.

"Before you go," said Mr. Caruthers, grudgingly, "I want to say - I
want you to understand my position."

"Oh, that's all right," said Van Bibber, lightly, opening the door.

"No, it is not all right. One moment, please. I do not intend that you
shall go away from here with the idea that you have tried to do me a
service, and that I have been unable to appreciate it, and that you
are a much-abused and much-misunderstood young man. Since you have
done me the honor to make my affairs your business, I would prefer
that you should understand them fully. I do not care to have you
discuss my conduct at clubs and afternoon teas with young women until
you - "

Van Bibber drew in his breath sharply, with a peculiar whistling
sound, and opened and shut his hands. "Oh, I wouldn't say that if I
were you," he said, simply.

"I beg your pardon," the older man said, quickly. "That was a mistake.
I was wrong. I beg your pardon. But you have tried me very sorely. You
have intruded upon a private trouble that you ought to know must be
very painful to me. But I believe you meant well. I know you to be a
gentleman, and I am willing to think you acted on impulse, and that
you will see to-morrow what a mistake you have made. It is not a thing
I talk about; I do not speak of it to my friends, and they are far too
considerate to speak of it to me. But you have put me on the
defensive. You have made me out more or less of a brute, and I don't
intend to be so far misunderstood. There are two sides to every story,
and there is something to be said about this, even for me."

He walked back to his place beside the mantel, and put his shoulders
against it, and faced Van Bibber, with his fingers twisted in the cord
around his waist.

"When I married," said Mr. Caruthers, "I did so against the wishes of
my people and the advice of all my friends. You know all about that.
God help us! who doesn't?" he added, bitterly. "It was very rich, rare
reading for you and for every one else who saw the daily papers, and
we gave them all they wanted of it. I took her out of that life and
married her because I believed she was as good a woman as any of those
who had never had to work for their living, and I was bound that my
friends and your friends should recognize her and respect her as my
wife had a right to be respected; and I took her abroad that I might
give all you sensitive, fine people a chance to get used to the idea
of being polite to a woman who had once been a burlesque actress. It
began over there in Paris. What I went through then no one knows; but
when I came back - and I would never have come back if she had not made
me - it was my friends I had to consider, and not her. It was in the
blood; it was in the life she had led, and in the life men like you
and me had taught her to live. And it had to come out."

The muscles of Mr. Caruthers's face were moving, and beyond his
control; but Van Bibber did not see this, for he was looking intently
out of the window, over the roofs of the city.

"She had every chance when she married me that a woman ever had,"
continued the older man. "It only depended on herself. I didn't try to
make a housewife of her or a drudge. She had all the healthy
excitement and all the money she wanted, and she had a home here ready
for her whenever she was tired of travelling about and wished to
settle down. And I was - and a husband that loved her as - she had
everything. Everything that a man's whole thought and love and money
could bring to her. And you know what she did."

He looked at Van Bibber, but Van Bibber's eyes were still turned
towards the open window and the night.

"And after the divorce - and she was free to go where she pleased, and
to live as she pleased and with whom she pleased, without bringing
disgrace on a husband who honestly loved her - I swore to my God that I
would never see her nor her child again. And I never saw her again,
not even when she died. I loved the mother, and she deceived me and
disgraced me and broke my heart, and I only wish she had killed me;
and I was beginning to love her child, and I vowed she should not live
to trick me too. I had suffered as no man I know had suffered; in a
way a boy like you cannot understand, and that no one can understand
who has not gone to hell and been forced to live after it. And was I
to go through that again? Was I to love and care for and worship this
child, and have her grow up with all her mother's vanity and animal
nature, and have her turn on me some day and show me that what is bred
in the bone must tell, and that I was a fool again - a pitiful fond
fool? I could not trust her. I can never trust any woman or child
again, and least of all that woman's child. She is as dead to me as
though she were buried with her mother, and it is nothing to me what
she is or what her life is. I know in time what it will be. She has
begun earlier than I had supposed, that is all; but she is nothing to
me." The man stopped and turned his back to Van Bibber, and hid his
head in his hands, with his elbows on the mantel-piece. "I care too
much," he said. "I cannot let it mean anything to me; when I do care,
it means so much more to me than to other men. They may pretend to
laugh and to forget and to outgrow it, but it is not so with me. It
means too much." He took a quick stride towards one of the arm-chairs,
and threw himself into it. "Why, man," he cried, "I loved that child's
mother to the day of her death. I loved that woman then, and, God help
me! I love that woman still."

He covered his face with his hands, and sat leaning forward and
breathing heavily as he rocked himself to and fro. Van Bibber still
stood looking gravely out at the lights that picketed the black
surface of the city. He was to all appearances as unmoved by the
outburst of feeling into which the older man had been surprised as
though it had been something in a play. There was an unbroken silence
for a moment, and then it was Van Bibber who was the first to speak.

"I came here, as you say, on impulse," he said; "but I am glad I came,
for I have your decisive answer now about the little girl. I have
been thinking," he continued, slowly, "since you have been speaking,
and before, when I first saw her dancing in front of the footlights,
when I did not know who she was, that I could give up a horse or
two, if necessary, and support this child instead. Children are
worth more than horses, and a man who saves a soul, as it says" - he
flushed slightly, and looked up with a hesitating, deprecatory
smile - "somewhere, wipes out a multitude of sins. And it may be I'd
like to try and get rid of some of mine. I know just where to send
her; I know the very place. It's down in Evergreen Bay, on Long
Island. They are tenants of mine there, and very nice farm sort of
people, who will be very good to her. They wouldn't know anything
about her, and she'd forget what little she knows of this present life
very soon, and grow up with the other children to be one of them; and
then, when she gets older and becomes a young lady, she could go to
some school - but that's a bit too far ahead to plan for the present;
but that's what I am going to do, though," said the young man,
confidently, and as though speaking to himself. "That theatrical
boarding-house person could be bought off easily enough," he went on,
quickly, "and Lester won't mind letting her go if I ask it, and - and
that's what I'll do. As you say, it's a good deal of an experiment,
but I think I'll run the risk."

He walked quickly to the door and disappeared in the hall, and then
came back, kicking the door open as he returned, and holding the child
in his arms.

"This is she," he said, quietly. He did not look at or notice the
father, but stood, with the child asleep in the bend of his left arm,
gazing down at her. "This is she," he repeated; "this is your child."

There was something cold and satisfied in Van Bibber's tone and
manner, as though he were congratulating himself upon the engaging of
a new groom; something that placed the father entirely outside of it.
He might have been a disinterested looker-on.

"She will need to be fed a bit," Van Bibber ran on, cheerfully. "They
did not treat her very well, I fancy. She is thin and peaked and
tired-looking." He drew up the loose sleeve of her jacket, and showed
the bare forearm to the light. He put his thumb and little finger
about it, and closed them on it gently. "It is very thin," he said.
"And under her eyes, if it were not for the paint," he went on,
mercilessly, "you could see how deep the lines are. This red spot on
her cheek," he said, gravely, "is where Mary Vane kissed her to-night,
and this is where Alma Stantley kissed her, and that Lee girl. You
have heard of them, perhaps. They will never kiss her again. She is
going to grow up a sweet, fine, beautiful woman - are you not?" he
said, gently drawing the child higher up on his shoulder, until her
face touched his, and still keeping his eyes from the face of the
older man. "She does not look like her mother," he said; "she has her
father's auburn hair and straight nose and finer-cut lips and chin.
She looks very much like her father. It seems a pity," he added,
abruptly. "She will grow up," he went on, "without knowing him, or
who he is - or was, if he should die. She will never speak with him, or
see him, or take his hand. She may pass him some day on the street and
will not know him, and he will not know her, but she will grow to be
very fond and to be very grateful to the simple, kind-hearted old
people who will have cared for her when she was a little girl."

The child in his arms stirred, shivered slightly, and awoke. The two
men watched her breathlessly, with silent intentness. She raised her
head and stared around the unfamiliar room doubtfully, then turned to
where her father stood, looking at him a moment, and passed him by;
and then, looking up into Van Bibber's face, recognized him, and gave
a gentle, sleepy smile, and, with a sigh of content and confidence,
drew her arm up closer around his neck, and let her head fall back
upon his breast.

The father sprang to his feet with a quick, jealous gasp of pain.
"Give her to me!" he said, fiercely, under his breath, snatching her
out of Van Bibber's arms. "She is mine; give her to me!"

Van Bibber closed the door gently behind him, and went jumping down
the winding stairs of the Berkeley three steps at a time.

And an hour later, when the English servant came to his master's door,
he found him still awake and sitting in the dark by the open window,
holding something in his arms and looking out over the sleeping city.

"James," he said, "you can make up a place for me here on the lounge.
Miss Caruthers, my daughter, will sleep in my room to-night."




VAN BIBBER'S MAN-SERVANT


Van Bibber's man Walters was the envy and admiration of his friends.
He was English, of course, and he had been trained in the household of
the Marquis Bendinot, and had travelled, in his younger days, as the
valet of young Lord Upton. He was now rather well on in years,
although it would have been impossible to say just how old he was.
Walters had a dignified and repellent air about him, and he brushed
his hair in such a way as to conceal his baldness.

And when a smirking, slavish youth with red cheeks and awkward
gestures turned up in Van Bibber's livery, his friends were naturally
surprised, and asked how he had come to lose Walters. Van Bibber could
not say exactly, at least he could not rightly tell whether he had
dismissed Walters or Walters had dismissed himself. The facts of the
unfortunate separation were like this:

Van Bibber gave a great many dinners during the course of the season
at Delmonico's, dinners hardly formal enough to require a private
room, and yet too important to allow of his running the risk of
keeping his guests standing in the hall waiting for a vacant table.
So he conceived the idea of sending Walters over about half-past six
to keep a table for him. As everybody knows, you can hold a table
yourself at Delmonico's for any length of time until the other guests
arrive, but the rule is very strict about servants. Because, as the
head waiter will tell you, if servants were allowed to reserve a table
during the big rush at seven o'clock, why not messenger boys? And it
would certainly never do to have half a dozen large tables securely
held by minute messengers while the hungry and impatient waited their
turn at the door.

But Walters looked as much like a gentleman as did many of the diners;
and when he seated himself at the largest table and told the waiter to
serve for a party of eight or ten; he did it with such an air that the
head waiter came over himself and took the orders. Walters knew quite
as much about ordering a dinner as did his master; and when Van Bibber
was too tired to make out the menu, Walters would look over the card
himself and order the proper wines and side dishes; and with such a
carelessly severe air and in such a masterly manner did he discharge
this high function that the waiters looked upon him with much respect.

But respect even from your equals and the satisfaction of having your
fellow-servants mistake you for a member of the Few Hundred are not
enough. Walters wanted more. He wanted the further satisfaction of
enjoying the delicious dishes he had ordered; of sitting as a coequal
with the people for whom he had kept a place; of completing the
deception he practised only up to the point where it became most
interesting.

It certainly was trying to have to rise with a subservient and
unobtrusive bow and glide out unnoticed by the real guests when they
arrived; to have to relinquish the feast just when the feast should
begin. It would not be pleasant, certainly, to sit for an hour at a
big empty table, ordering dishes fit only for epicures, and then, just
as the waiters bore down with the Little Neck clams, so nicely iced
and so cool and bitter-looking, to have to rise and go out into the
street to a _table d'hôte_ around the corner.

This was Walters's state of mind when Mr. Van Bibber told him for the
hundredth time to keep a table for him for three at Delmonico's.
Walters wrapped his severe figure in a frock-coat and brushed his
hair, and allowed himself the dignity of a walking-stick. He would
have liked to act as a substitute in an evening dress-suit, but Van
Bibber would not have allowed it. So Walters walked over to
Delmonico's and took a table near a window, and said that the other
gentlemen would arrive later. Then he looked at his watch and ordered
the dinner. It was just the sort of dinner he would have ordered had
he ordered it for himself at some one else's expense. He suggested
Little Neck clams first, with chablis, and pea-soup, and caviare on
toast, before the oyster crabs, with Johannisberger Cabinet; then an
_entrée_ of calves' brains and rice; then no roast, but a bird, cold
asparagus with French dressing, Camembert cheese, and Turkish coffee.
As there were to be no women, he omitted the sweets and added three
other wines to follow the white wine. It struck him as a particularly
well-chosen dinner, and the longer he sat and thought about it the
more he wished he were to test its excellence. And then the people all
around him were so bright and happy, and seemed to be enjoying what
they had ordered with such a refinement of zest that he felt he would
give a great deal could he just sit there as one of them for a brief
hour.

At that moment the servant deferentially handed him a note which a
messenger boy had brought. It said:

"Dinner off called out town send clothes and things after me to
Young's Boston. VAN BIBBER."

Walter rose involuntarily, and then sat still to think about it. He
would have to countermand the dinner which he had ordered over half an
hour before, and he would have to explain who he was to those other
servants who had always regarded him as such a great gentleman. It was
very hard.

And then Walters was tempted. He was a very good servant, and he knew
his place as only an English servant can, and he had always accepted
it, but to-night he was tempted - and he fell. He met the waiter's
anxious look with a grave smile.

"The other gentlemen will not be with me to-night," he said, glancing
at the note. "But I will dine here as I intended. You can serve for
one."

That was perhaps the proudest night in the history of Walters. He had
always felt that he was born out of his proper sphere, and to-night he
was assured of it. He was a little nervous at first, lest some of Van
Bibber's friends should come in and recognize him; but as the dinner
progressed and the warm odor of the dishes touched his sense, and the
rich wines ran through his veins, and the women around him smiled and
bent and moved like beautiful birds of beautiful plumage, he became
content, grandly content; and he half closed his eyes and imagined he
was giving a dinner to everybody in the place. Vain and idle thoughts
came to him and went again, and he eyed the others about him calmly
and with polite courtesy, as they did him, and he felt that if he must
later pay for this moment it was worth the paying.

Then he gave the waiter a couple of dollars out of his own pocket and
wrote Van Bibber's name on the check, and walked in state into the


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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 2 of 12)