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he had something of interest to say, and he was tall and well-looking
enough to appear best in that position, and she was used to it. He was
the most frequent of her visitors.

"Going away," she repeated, smiling up at him; "not for long, I hope.
Where are you going now?"

"I'm going to London," he said. "They cabled me this morning. It
seems they've taken the play, and are going to put it on at once." He
smiled, and blushed slightly at her exclamation of pleasure. "Yes, it
is rather nice. It seems 'Jilted' was a failure, and they've taken it
off, and are going to put on 'School,' with the old cast, until they
can get my play rehearsed, and they want me to come over and suggest
things."

She stopped him with another little cry of delight that was very sweet
to him, and full of moment.

"Oh, how glad I am!" she said. "How proud you must be! Now, why do you
pretend you are not? And I suppose Tree and the rest of them will be
in the cast, and all that dreadful American colony in the stalls, and
you will make a speech - and I won't be there to hear it." She rose
suddenly with a quick, graceful movement, and held out her hand to
him, which he took, laughing and conscious-looking with pleasure.

She sank back on the divan, and shook her head doubtfully at him.
"When will you stop?" she said. "Don't tell me you mean to be an
Admirable Crichton. You are too fine for that."

He looked down at the fire, and said, slowly, "It is not as if I were
trying my hand at an entirely different kind of work. No, I don't
think I did wrong in dramatizing it. The papers all said, when the
book first came out, that it would make a good play; and then so many
men wrote to me for permission to dramatize it that I thought I might
as well try to do it myself. No, I think it is in line with my other
work. I don't think I am straying after strange gods."

"You should not," she said, softly. "The old ones have been so kind to
you. But you took me too seriously," she added.

"I am afraid sometimes," he answered, "that you do not know how
seriously I do take you."

"Yes, I do," she said, quickly. "And when I am serious, that is all
very well; but to-night I only want to laugh. I am very happy, it is
such good news. And after the New York managers refusing it, too. They
will _have_ to take it _now_, now that it is a London success."

"Well, it isn't a London success yet," he said, dryly. "The books went
well over there because the kind of Western things I wrote about met
their ideas of this country - cowboys and prairies and Indian maidens
and all that. And so I rather hope the play will suit them for the
same reason."

"And you will go out a great deal, I hope," she said. "Oh, you will
have to! You will find so many people to like, almost friends already.
They were talking about you even when I was there, and I used to shine
in reflected glory because I knew you."

"Yes, I can fancy it," he said. "But I should like to see something of
them if I have time. Lowes wants me to stay with them, and I suppose I
will. He would feel hurt if I didn't. He has a most absurd idea of
what I did for him on the ranche when he had the fever that time, and
ever since he went back to enjoy his ill-gotten gains and his title
and all that, he has kept writing to me to come out. Yes, I suppose I
will stay with them. They are in town now."

Miss Cuyler's face was still lit with pleasure at his good fortune,
but her smile was less spontaneous than it had been. "That will be
very nice. I quite envy you," she said. "I suppose you know about his
sister?"

"The Honorable Evelyn?" he asked. "Yes; he used to have a photograph
of her, and I saw some others the other day in a shop-window on
Broadway."

"She is a very nice girl," Miss Cuyler said, thoughtfully. "I wonder
how you two will get along?" and then she added, as if with sudden
compunction, "but I am sure you will like her very much. She is very
clever, besides."

"I don't know how a professional beauty will wear if one sees her
every day at breakfast," he said. "One always associates them with
functions and varnishing days and lawn-parties. You will write to me,
will you not?" he added.

"That sounds," she said, "as though you meant to be gone such a very
long time."

He turned one of the ornaments on the mantel with his fingers, and
looked at it curiously. "It depends," he said, slowly - "it depends on
so many things. No," he went on, looking at her; "it does not depend
on many things; just on one."

Miss Cuyler looked up at him questioningly, and then down again very
quickly, and reached meaninglessly for the book beside her. She saw
something in his face and in the rigidity of his position that made
her breathe more rapidly. She had not been afraid of this from him,
because she had always taken the attitude towards him of a very dear
friend and of one who was older, not in years, but in experience of
the world, for she had lived abroad while he had gone from the
university to the West, which he had made his own, in books. They were
both very young.

She did not want him to say anything. She could only answer him in one
way, and in a way that would hurt and give pain to them both. She had
hoped he could remain just as he was, a very dear friend, with a
suggestion sometimes in the background of his becoming something more.
She was, of course, too experienced to believe in a long platonic
friendship.

Uppermost in her mind was the thought that, no matter what he urged,
she must remember that she wanted to be free, to live her own life, to
fill her own sphere of usefulness, and she must not let him tempt her
to forget this. She had next to consider him, and that she must be
hard and keep him from speaking at all; and this was very difficult,
for she cared for him very dearly. She strengthened her determination
by thinking of his going away, and of how glad she would be when he
had gone that she had committed herself to nothing. This absence would
be a test for both of them; it could not have been better had it been
arranged on purpose. She had ideas of what she could best do for those
around her, and she must not be controlled and curbed, no matter how
strongly she might think she wished it. She must not give way to the
temptation of the moment, or to a passing mood. And then there were
other men. She had their photographs on her dressing-table, and liked
each for some qualities the others did not possess in such a degree;
but she liked them all because no one of them had the right to say
"must" or even "you might" to her, and she fancied that the moment she
gave one of them this right she would hate him cordially, and would
fly to the others for sympathy; and she was not a young woman who
thought that matrimony meant freedom to fly to any one but her husband
for that. But this one of the men was a little the worst; he made it
harder for her to be quite herself. She noticed that when she was with
him she talked more about her feelings than with the other men, with
whom she was satisfied to discuss the play, or what girl they wanted
to take into dinner. She had touches of remorse after these
confidences to Wainwright, and wrote him brisk, friendly notes the
next morning, in which the words "your friend" were always sure to
appear, either markedly at the beginning or at the end, or tucked
away in the middle. She thought by this to unravel the web she might
have woven the day before. But she had apparently failed. She stood up
suddenly from pure nervousness, and crossed the room as though she
meant to go to the piano, which was a very unfortunate move, as she
seldom played, and never for him. She sat down before it,
nevertheless, rather hopelessly, and crossed her hands in front of
her. He had turned, and followed her with his eyes; they were very
bright and eager, and her own faltered as she looked at them.

"You do not show much interest in the one thing that will bring me
back," he said. He spoke reproachfully and yet a little haughtily, as
though he had already half suspected she had guessed what he meant to
say.

"Ah, you cannot tell how long you will be there," she said, lightly.
"You will like it much more than you think. I - " she stopped
hopelessly, and glanced, without meaning to do so, at the clock-face
on the mantel beside him.

"Oh," he said, with quick misunderstanding, "I beg your pardon, I am
keeping you, I forgot how late it was, and you are going out." He came
towards her as though he meant to go. She stood up and made a quick,
impatient gesture with her hands. He was making it very hard for her.

"Fancy!" she said. "You know I want to talk to you; what does the
dance matter? Why are you so unlike yourself?" she went on, gently.
"And it is our last night, too."

The tone of her words seemed to reassure him, for he came nearer and
rested his elbow beside her on the piano and said, "Then you are sorry
that I am going?"

It was very hard to be unyielding to him when he spoke and looked as
he did then; but she repeated to herself, "He will be gone to-morrow,
and then I shall be so thankful that I did not bind myself - that I am
still free. He will be gone, and I shall be so glad. It will only be a
minute now before he goes, and if I am strong I will rejoice at
leisure." So she looked up at him without a sign of the effort it cost
her, frankly and openly, and said, "Sorry? Of course I am sorry. One
does not have so many friends that one can spare them for long, even
to have them grow famous. I think it is very selfish of you to go, for
you are famous enough already."

As he looked at her and heard her words running on smoothly and
meaninglessly, he knew that it was quite useless to speak, and he grew
suddenly colder, and sick, and furious at once with a confused anger
and bitterness. And then, for he was quite young, so young that he
thought it was the manly thing to do to carry his grief off lightly
instead of rather being proud of his love, however she might hold
it, - he drew himself up and began pulling carefully at his glove.

"Yes," he said, slowly, "I fancy the change will be very pleasant."
He was not thinking of his words or of how thoughtless they must
sound. He was only anxious to get away without showing how deeply he
was hurt. If he had not done this; if he had let her see how miserable
he was, and that plays and books and such things were nothing to him
now, and that she was just all there was in the whole world to him, it
might have ended differently. But he was untried, and young. So he
buttoned the left glove with careful scrutiny and said, "They always
start those boats at such absurd hours; the tides never seem to suit
one; you have to go on board without breakfast, or else stay on board
the night before, and that's so unpleasant. Well, I hope you will
enjoy the dance, and tell them I was very much hurt that I wasn't
asked."

He held out his hand quite steadily. "I will write you if you will let
me," he went on, "and send you word where I am as soon as I know." She
took his hand and said, "Good-by, and I hope it will be a grand
success: I know it will. And come back soon; and, yes, do write to me.
I hope you will have a very pleasant voyage."

He had reached the door and stopped uncertainly at the curtains.
"Thank you," he said; and "Oh," he added, politely, "will you say
good-by to your mother for me, please?"

She nodded her head and smiled and said, "Yes; I will not forget.
Good-by."

She did not move until she heard the door close upon him, and then
she turned towards the window as though she could still follow him
through the closed blinds, and then she walked over to the divan and
picked up her fan and gloves and remained looking down at them in her
hand. The room seemed very empty. She glanced at the place where he
had stood and at the darkened windows again, and sank down very slowly
against the cushions of the divan, and pressed her hands against her
cheeks.

She did not hear the rustle of her mother's dress as she came down the
stairs and parted the curtains.

"Are you ready, Eleanore?" she said, briskly. "Tell me, how does this
lace look? I think there is entirely too much of it."

* * * * *

It was a month after this, simultaneously with the announcements by
cable of the instant success in London of "A Western Idyl," that Miss
Cuyler retired from the world she knew, and disappeared into darkest
New York by the way of Rivington Street. She had discovered one
morning that she was not ill nor run down nor overtaxed, but just
mentally tired of all things, and that what she needed was change of
air and environment, and unselfish work for the good of others, and
less thought of herself. Her mother's physician suggested to her,
after a secret and hasty interview with Mrs. Cuyler, that change of
air was good, but that the air of Rivington Street was not of the
best; and her friends, both men and women, assured her that they
appreciated her much more than the people of the east side possibly
could do, and that they were much more worthy of her consideration,
and in a fair way of improvement yet if she would only continue to
shine upon and before them. But she was determined in her purpose, and
regarded the College Settlement as the one opening and refuge for the
energies which had too long been given to the arrangement of paper
chases across country, and the routine of society, and dilettante
interest in kindergartens. Life had become for her real and earnest,
and she rejected Bruce-Brice of the British Legation with the sad and
hopeless kindness of one who almost contemplates taking the veil, and
to whom the things of this world outside of tenements are hollow and
unprofitable. She found a cruel disappointment at first, for the women
of the College Settlement had rules and ideas of their own, and had
seen enthusiasts like herself come into Rivington Street before, and
depart again. She had thought she would nurse the sick and visit the
prisoners on the Island, and bring cleanliness and hope into miserable
lives, but she found that this was the work of women tried in the
service, who understood it, and who made her first serve her
apprenticeship by reading the German Bible to old women whose eyes
were dim, but who were as hopelessly clean and quite as
self-respecting in their way as herself. The heroism and the
self-sacrifice of a Father Damien or a Florence Nightingale were not
for her; older and wiser young women saw to that work with a quiet
matter-of-fact cheerfulness and a common-sense that bewildered her.
And they treated her kindly, but indulgently, as an outsider. It took
her some time to understand this, and she did not confess to herself
without a struggle that she was disappointed in her own usefulness;
but she brought herself to confess it to her friends "uptown," when
she visited that delightful country from which she was self-exiled.
She went there occasionally for an afternoon's rest or to a luncheon
or a particularly attractive dinner, but she always returned to the
Settlement at night, and this threw an additional interest about her
to her friends - an interest of which she was ashamed, for she knew how
little she was really doing, and that her sacrifice was one of
discomfort merely. The good she did now, it was humiliating to
acknowledge, was in no way proportionate to that which her influence
had wrought among people of her own class.

And what made it very hard was that wherever she went they seemed to
talk of him. Now it would be a girl just from the other side who had
met him on the terrace of the Lower House, "where he seemed to know
every one," and another had driven with him to Ascot, where he had
held the reins, and had shown them what a man who had guided a
mail-coach one whole winter over the mountains for a living could do
with a coach for pleasure. And many of the men had met him at the
clubs and at house parties in the country, and they declared with
enthusiastic envy that he was no end of a success. Her English friends
all wrote of him, and wanted to know all manner of little things
concerning him, and hinted that they understood they were very great
friends. The papers seemed to be always having him doing something,
and there was apparently no one else in London who could so properly
respond to the toasts of America at all the public dinners. She had
had letters from him herself - of course bright, clever ones - that
suggested what a wonderfully full and happy life his was, but with no
reference to his return. He was living with his young friend Lord
Lowes, and went everywhere with him and his people; and then as a
final touch, which she had already anticipated, people began to speak
of him and the Honorable Evelyn. What could be more natural? they
said. He had saved her brother's life while out West half a dozen
times at least, from all accounts; and he was rich, and well-looking,
and well-born, and rapidly becoming famous.

A young married woman announced it at a girls' luncheon. She had it
from her friend the Marchioness of Pelby, who was Evelyn's
first-cousin. So far, only the family had been told; but all London
knew it, and it was said that Lord Lowes was very much pleased. One
of the girls at the table said you never could tell about those
things; she had no doubt the Marchioness of Pelby was an authority,
but she would wait until she got their wedding-cards before she
believed it. For some reason this girl did not look at Miss Cuyler,
and Miss Cuyler felt grateful to her, and thought she was a nice,
bright little thing; and then another girl said it was only turn
about. The Englishmen had taken all the attractive American girls,
and it was only fair that the English girls should get some of the
nice American men. This girl was an old friend of Eleanore's; but she
was surprised at her making such a speech, and wondered why she had
not noticed in her before similar exhibitions of bad taste. She walked
back to Rivington Street from the luncheon; composing the letter she
would write to him, congratulating him on his engagement. She composed
several. Some of them were very short and cheery, and others rather
longer and full of reminiscences. She wondered with sudden fierce
bitterness how he could so soon forget certain walks and afternoons
they had spent together; and the last note, which she composed in bed,
was a very sad and scornful one, and so pathetic as a work of
composition that she cried a little over it, and went to sleep full of
indignation that she had cried.

She told herself the next morning that she had cried because she was
frankly sorry to lose the companionship of so old and good a friend,
and because now that she had been given much more important work to
do, she was naturally saddened by the life she saw around her, and
weakened by the foul air of the courts and streets, and the dreary
environments of the tenements. As for him, she was happy in his
happiness; and she pictured how some day, when he proudly brought his
young bride to this country to show her to his friends, he would ask
after her. And they would say: "Who! Eleanore Cuyler? Why, don't you
know? While you were on your honeymoon she was in the slums, where she
took typhoid fever nursing a child, and died!" Or else some day, when
she had grown into a beautiful sweet-faced old lady, with white hair,
his wife would die, and he would return to her, never having been very
happy with his first wife, but having nobly hidden from her and from
the world his true feelings. He would find her working among the poor,
and would ask her forgiveness, and she could not quite determine
whether she would forgive him or not. These pictures comforted her
even while they saddened her, and she went about her work, feeling
that it was now her life's work, and that she was in reality an old,
old woman. The rest, she was sure, was but a weary waiting for the
end.

* * * * *

It was about six months after this, in the early spring, while Miss
Cuyler was still in Rivington Street, that young Van Bibber invited
his friend Travers to dine with him, and go on later to the People's
Theatre, on the Bowery, where Irving Willis, the Boy Actor, was
playing "Nick of the Woods." Travers despatched a hasty and joyous
note in reply to this to the effect that he would be on hand. He then
went off with a man to try a horse at a riding academy, and easily and
promptly forgot all about it. He did remember, as he was dressing for
dinner, that he had an appointment somewhere, and took some
consolation out of this fact, for he considered it a decided step in
advance when he could remember that he had an engagement, even if he
could not recall what it was. The stern mental discipline necessary to
do this latter would, he hoped, come in time. So he dined unwarily at
home, and was, in consequence, seized upon by his father, who sent him
to the opera, as a substitute for himself, with his mother and
sisters, while he went off delightedly to his club to play whist.

Travers did not care for the opera, and sat in the back of the box and
dozed, and wondered moodily what so many nice men saw in his sisters
to make them want to talk to them. It was midnight, and just as he had
tumbled into bed, when the nature of his original engagement came back
to him, and his anger and disappointment were so intense that he
kicked the clothes over the foot of his bedstead.

As for Van Bibber, he knew his friend too well to wait for him, and
occupied a box at the People's Theatre in solitary state, and from its
depths gurgled with delight whenever the Boy Actor escaped being run
over by a real locomotive, or in turn rescued the stout heroine from
six red shirted cowboys. There were quite as many sudden deaths and
lofty sentiments as he had expected, and he left the theatre with the
pleased satisfaction of an evening well spent and with a pitying
sympathy for Travers who had missed it. The night was pleasant and
filled with the softness of early spring, and Van Bibber turned down
the Bowery with a cigar between his teeth and no determined purpose
except the one that he did not intend to go to bed. The streets were
still crowded, and the lights showed the many types of this "Thieves'
Highway" with which Van Bibber, in his many excursions in search of
mild adventure, had become familiar. They were so familiar that the
unfamiliarity of the hurrying figure of a girl of his own class who
passed in front of him down Grand Street brought him, abruptly
wondering, to a halt. She had passed directly under an electric light,
and her dress, and walk, and bearing he seemed to recognize, but as
belonging to another place. What a girl, well-born and well-dressed,
could be doing at such an hour in such a neighborhood aroused his
curiosity; but it was rather with a feeling of _noblesse oblige_, and
a hope of being of use to one of his own people, that he crossed to
the opposite side of the street and followed her. She was evidently
going somewhere; that was written in every movement of her regular
quick walk and her steadfast look ahead. Her veil hid the upper part
of her face, and the passing crowd shut her sometimes entirely from
view; but Van Bibber, himself unnoticed, succeeded in keeping her in
sight, while he speculated as to the nature of her errand and her
personality. At Eldridge Street she turned sharply to the north, and,
without a change in her hurrying gait, passed on quickly, and turned
again at Rivington. "Oh," said Van Bibber, with relieved curiosity,
"one of the College Settlement," and stopped satisfied. But the street
had now become deserted, and though he disliked the idea of following
a woman, even though she might not be aware of his doing so, he
disliked even more the idea of leaving her to make her way in such a
place alone. And so he started on again, and as there was now more
likelihood of her seeing him in the empty street, he dropped farther
to the rear and kept in the shadow; and as he did so, he saw a man,
whom he had before noticed on the opposite side of the street, quicken
his pace and draw nearer to the girl. It seemed impossible to Van
Bibber that any man could mistake the standing of this woman and the
evident purpose of her haste; but the man was apparently settling his
pace to match hers, as if only waiting an opportunity to approach her.
Van Bibber tucked his stick under his arm and moved forward more
quickly. It was midnight, and the street was utterly strange to him.
From the light of the lamps he could see signs in Hebrew and the
double eagle of Russia painted on the windows of the saloons. Long


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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 5 of 12)