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inasmuch as I was 'on to' you, and dropped hints that made you lose, I've
no hard feelings. Then, too, you did no worse than any other would have
done in your place. A man's as good, and as bad, as he has the chance to
be. So take it. I've not made my will yet, and as I may not be able to, I
give you the money now. You'll find the check in this top drawer, and
some other checks for the people near me. I suppose they'll expect
something - I've got 'em into the habit of it. Take 'em and run along and
send 'em off right away."

Vagen muttered inarticulate thanks. In fact, the check was making small
impression on him, or the revelation that his chief had eyes as keen for
what was going on under his nose as for the great movements in the big
field. He could think only of that terrifying weakness, that significant
garrulousness.

When Vagen was out of the way, Charles repeated: "I'm going this
afternoon." His listless eyes were gazing vacantly at the carved rosewood
ceiling. His hands - the hands of a corpse - looked horribly like sheathed,
crumpled claws in the gold silk cuffs of his dark-blue dressing gown. His
nose, protruding from his sunken cheeks, seemed not like a huge beak, but
indeed a beak.

"But Janet - " began Mrs. Whitney, thinking as she spoke that he surely
would "not be spared to us much longer."

"Janet can follow - or stay here - or - I don't care what she does," droned
Whitney. "Do you suppose I'm thinking about anybody but myself now? Would
you, if you were in my fix. I should say," he amended cynically, "_will_
you, when you're in my fix?"

"Charles!" exclaimed Matilda.

Whitney's smile checked her. "I'm not a fool," he rambled on. "Do you
suppose I haven't seen what was going on? Do you suppose I don't know
all of you wish I was out of it? Yes, out of it. And you needn't bother
to put on that shocked look; it doesn't fool me. I used to say: 'I'll
be generous with my family and give 'em more than they'd have if I was
gone.' 'No children waiting round eager for me to pass off,' said I,
'so that they can divide up my fortune.' I've said that often and
often. And I've acted on it. And I've raised up two as pampered,
selfish children as ever lived. And now - The last seven months I've
been losing money hand over fist. Everything I've gone into has turned
out bad. I'm down to about half what I had a year ago - maybe less than
half. And you and Ross - and no doubt that marchioness ex-daughter of
mine - all know it. And you're afraid if I live on, I'll lose more,
maybe everything. Do you deny it?"

Matilda was unable to speak. She had known he was less rich; but
half! - "maybe less!" The cuirass of steel, whalebone, kid, and linen
which molded her body to a fashionable figure seemed to be closing in on
her heart and lungs with a stifling clutch.

"No, you don't deny it. You couldn't," Whitney drawled on. "And so my
'indulgent father' damned foolishness ends just where I might have known
it'd end. We've brought up the children to love money and show off,
instead of to love us and character and self-respect - God forgive me!"

The room was profoundly silent: Charles thinking drowsily, yet vividly,
too, of his life; Matilda burning in anguish over the lost half, or more,
of the fortune - and Charles had always been secretive about his wealth,
so she didn't know how much the fortune was a year ago and couldn't judge
whether much or little was left! Enough to uphold her social position? Or
only enough to keep her barely clear of the "middle class"?

Soon Whitney's voice broke in upon her torments. "I've been thinking a
great deal, this last week, about Hiram Ranger."

Matilda, startled, gave him a wild look. "Charles!" she exclaimed.

"Exactly," said Whitney, a gleam of enjoyment in his dull eyes.

In fact, ever since Hiram's death his colossal figure had often dominated
the thoughts of Charles and Matilda Whitney. The will had set Charles to
observing, to _seeing_; it had set Matilda to speculating on the
possibilities of her own husband's stealthy relentlessness. At these
definite, dreadful words of his, her vague alarms burst into a deafening
chorus, jangling and clanging in her very ears.

"Arthur Ranger," continued Whitney, languid and absent, "has got out of
the beaten track of business - "

"Yes; look at Hiram's children!" urged Matilda. "Everybody that is
anybody is down on Arthur. See what his wife has brought him to, with her
crazy, upsetting ideas! They tell me a good many of the best people in
Saint X hardly speak to him. Yes, Charles, _look_ at Hiram's doings."

"Thanks to Hiram - what he inherited from Hiram and what Hiram had the
good sense not to let him inherit - he has become a somebody. He's doing
things, and the fact that they aren't just the kind of things I like
doesn't make me fool enough to underestimate them or him. Success is the
test, and in his line he's a success."

"If it hadn't been for his wife he'd not have done much," said
Matilda sourly.

"You've lived long enough, I'd think, to have learned not to say such
shallow things," drawled he. "Of course, he has learned from her - don't
everybody have to learn somewhere? Where a man learns is nothing; the
important thing is his capacity to learn. If a man's got the capacity to
learn, he'll learn, he'll become somebody. If he hasn't, then no man nor
no woman can teach him. No, my dear, you may be sure that anybody who
amounts to anything has got it in himself. And Arthur Ranger is a credit
to any father. He's becoming famous - the papers are full of what he's
accomplishing. And he's respected, honest, able, with a wife that loves
him. Would he have been anybody if his father had left him the money that
would have compelled him to be a fool? As for the girl, she's got a showy
streak in her - she's your regular American woman of nowadays - the kind of
daughter your sort of mother and my sort of damn-fool father breed up.
But Del's mother wasn't like you, Mattie, and she hadn't a fool father
like me, so she's married to a young fellow that's already doing big
things, in his line - and a good line his is, a better line than trimming
dollars and donkeys. Our Jenny - Jane that used to be - We've sold her to a
Frenchman, and she's sold herself to the devil. Hiram's daughter - God
forgive us, Matilda, for what we've done to Janet." All this, including
that last devout appeal, in the manner of a spectator of a scene at which
he is taking a last, indifferent, backward glance as he is leaving.

His wife's brain was too busy making plans and tearing them up to follow
his monotonous garrulity except in a general way. He waited in vain for
her to defend her daughter and herself.

"As for Ross," he went on, "he's keen and quick enough. He's got
together quite a fortune of his own - and he'll hold on to it and get
more. It's easy enough to make money if you've got money - and ain't
too finicky about the look and the smell of the dollars before you
gulp 'em down. Your Ross has a good strong stomach that way - as good
as his father's - and mother's. But - He ain't exactly the man I used to
picture as I was wheeling him up and down the street in his baby
carriage in Saint X."

That vulgar reminiscence seemed to be the signal for which Matilda was
waiting. "Charles Whitney," she said, "you and I have brought up our
children to take their proper place in our aristocracy of wealth and
birth and breeding. And I know you're not going to undo what we've done,
and done well."

"That's your 'bossy' tone, Mattie," he drawled, his desire to talk
getting a fresh excuse for indulging itself. "I guess this is a good
time to let you into a secret. You've thought you ran me ever since we
were engaged. That delusion of yours nearly lost you the chance to lead
these thirty years of wedded bliss with me. If you hadn't happened to
make me jealous and afraid the one man I used to envy in those days
would get you - I laughed the other day when he was appointed postmaster
at Indianapolis - However, I did marry you, and did let you imagine you
wore the pants. It seemed to amuse you, and it certainly amused
me - though not in the same way. Now I want you to look back and think
hard. You can't remember a single time that what you bossed me to do was
ever done. I was always fond of playing tricks and pulling secret wires,
and I did a lot of it in making you think you were bossing me when you
were really being bossed."

It was all Mrs. Whitney could do to keep her mind on how sick he was, and
how imperative it was not to get him out of humor. "I never meant to try
to influence you, Charles," she said, "except as anyone tries to help
those about one. And certainly you've been the one that has put us all in
our present position. That's why it distressed me for you even to talk of
undoing your work."

Whitney smiled satirically, mysteriously. "I'll do what I think best,"
was all he replied. And presently he added, "though I don't feel like
doing anything. It seems to me I don't care what happens, or whether I
live - or - don't. I'll go to Saint X. I'm just about strong enough to
stand the trip - and have Schulze come out to Point Helen this evening."

"Why not save your strength and have him come here?" urged Matilda.

"He wouldn't," replied her husband. "Last time I saw him he looked me
over and said: 'Champagne. If you don't stop it you won't live. Don't
come here again unless you cut out that poison.' But I never could resist
champagne. So I told myself he was an old crank, and found a great doctor
I could hire to agree with me. No use to send for Schulze to come all
this distance. I might even have to go to his office if I was at Saint X.
He won't go to see anybody who's able to move about. 'As they want _me_,
let 'em come _to_ me, just as I'd go to them if I wanted them,' he says.
'The air they get on the way is part of the cure.' Besides, he and I had
a quarrel. He was talking his nonsense against religion, and I said
something, and he implied I wasn't as straight in business as I should
be - quoted something about 'He that hasteth to be rich shall not be
innocent,' and one thing led to another, and finally he said, with that
ugly jeer of his: 'You pious bandits are lucky to have a forgiving God to
go to. Now we poor devils have only our self-respect, and _it_ never
forgives anything.'" Whitney laughed, reflected, laughed again. "Yes, I
must see Schulze. Maybe - Anyhow, I'm going to Saint X - going home, or as
near home as anything my money has left me."

He drowsed off. She sat watching him - the great beak, the bulging
forehead, the thin, cruel lips; and everywhere in the garden of
artificial flowers which formed the surface of her nature, hiding its
reality even from herself, there appeared the poisonous snakes of hateful
thoughts to shoot their fangs and hiss at him. She shrank and shuddered;
yet - "It's altogether his own fault that I feel this way toward him as he
lies dying," she said to herself, resorting to human nature's unfailing,
universally sought comforter in all trying circumstances - self-excuse.
"He always was cold and hard. He has become a monster. And even in his
best days he wasn't worthy to have such a woman as I am. And now he is
thinking of cheating me - and will do it - unless God prevents him."

He drowsed on, more asleep than awake, not even rousing when they put him
to bed. He did not go to Saint X that day. But he did go later - went to
lie in state in the corridor of the splendid hall he had given Tecumseh;
to be gaped at by thousands who could not see that they were viewing a
few pounds of molded clay, so busy were their imaginations with the vast
fortune it was supposed he left; to be preached over, the sermon by Dr.
Hargrave, who believed in him - and so, in estimating the man as
distinguished from what the system he lived under had made of him,
perhaps came nearer the truth than those who talked only of the facts of
his public career - his piracy, his bushwhacking, his gambling with the
marked cards and loaded dice of "high finance"; to be buried in the old
Cedar Grove Cemetery, with an imposing monument presently over him,
before it fresh flowers every day for a year - the Marchioness of St.
Berthè contracted with a florist to attend to that.

* * * * *

Four days after the funeral Janet sent a servant down to Adelaide and to
Mrs. Ranger with notes begging them to come to Point Helen for lunch.
"We are lonely and _so_ dreary," she wrote Adelaide. "We want you - need
you." Only one answer was possible, and at half-past twelve they set out
in Mrs. Ranger's carriage. As they drove away from the Villa d'Orsay Mrs.
Ranger said: "When does Mrs. Dorsey allow to come home?"

"Not for two years more," replied Del.

Ellen's expression suggested that she was debating whether or not to
speak some thought which she feared Del might regard as meddlesome. "When
you finally do have to get out," she said presently, "it'll be like
giving up your own home, won't it?"

"No," said Del. "I hate the place!" A pause, then: "I wrote Mrs. Dorsey
yesterday that we wouldn't stay but three months longer - not in any
circumstances."

The old woman's face brightened. "I'm mighty glad of that," she said
heartily. "Then, you'll have a home of your own at last."

"Not exactly," was Del's reply, in a curious tone. "The fact is, I'm
going to live with Dr. Hargrave."

Ellen showed her astonishment. "And old Martha Skeffington!"

"She's not so difficult, once you get to know her," replied Del. "I find
that everything depends on the point of view you take in looking at
people. I've been getting better acquainted with Dory's aunt the last few
weeks. I think she has begun to like me. We'll get along."

"Don't you think you'd better wait till Dory gets back?"

"No," said Adelaide firmly, a look in her eyes which made her mother say
to herself: "There's the Ranger in her."

They drove in silence awhile; then Del, with an effort which brought a
bright color to her cheeks, began: "I want to tell you, mother, that I
went to Judge Torrey this morning, and made over to you the income
father left me."

"Whatever did you do _that_ for?" cried Ellen, turning in the seat to
stare at her daughter through her glasses.

"I promised Dory I would. I've spent some of the money - about fifteen
hundred dollars - You see, the house was more expensive than I thought.
But everything's paid up now."

"I don't need it, and don't want it," said Ellen. "And I won't take it!"

"I promised Dory I would - before we were married. He thinks I've done it.
I've let him think so. And - lately - I've been having a sort of house
cleaning - straightening things up - and I straightened that up, too."

Ellen Ranger understood. A long pause, during which she looked lovingly
at her daughter's beautiful face. At last she said: "No, there don't seem
to be no other way out of it." Then, anxiously, "You ain't written Dory
what you've done?"

"No," replied Del. "Not yet."

"Not never!" exclaimed her mother. "That's one of the things a body
mustn't ever tell anyone. You did wrong; you've done right - and it's all
settled and over. He'd probably understand if you told him. But he'd
never quite trust you the same again - that's human nature."

"But _you'd_ trust me," objected Del.

"I'm older'n Dory," replied her mother; "and, besides, I ain't your
husband. There's no end of husbands and wives that get into hot water
through telling, where it don't do any earthly good and makes the other
one uneasy and unhappy."

Adelaide reflected. "It _is_ better not to tell him," she concluded.

Ellen was relieved. "That's common sense," said she. "And you can't use
too much common sense in marriage. The woman's got to have it, for the
men never do where women are concerned." She reflected a few minutes,
then, after a keen glance at her daughter and away, she said with an
appearance of impersonality that evidenced diplomatic skill of no mean
order: "And there's this habit the women are getting nowadays of always
peeping into their heads and hearts to see what's going on. How can they
expect the cake to bake right if they're first at the fire door, then at
the oven door, openin' and shuttin' 'em, peepin' and pokin' and
tastin' - that's what _I'd_ like to know."

Adelaide looked at her mother's apparently unconscious face in surprise
and admiration. "What a sensible, wonderful woman you are, Ellen Ranger!"
she exclaimed, giving her mother the sisterly name she always gave her
when she felt a particular delight in the bond between them. And half to
herself, yet so that her mother heard, she added: "And what a fool your
daughter has been!"

"Nobody's born wise," said Ellen, "and mighty few takes the trouble
to learn."

At Point Helen the mourning livery of the lodge keeper and of the hall
servants prepared Ellen and her daughter for the correct and elegant
habiliments of woe in which Matilda and her son and daughter were garbed.
If Whitney had died before he began to lose his fortune, and while his
family were in a good humor with him because of his careless generosity,
or, rather, indifference to extravagance, he would have been mourned as
sincerely as it is possible for human beings to mourn one by whose death
they are to profit enormously in title to the material possessions they
have been trained to esteem above all else in the world. As it was, those
last few months of anxiety - Mrs. Whitney worrying lest her luxury and
social leadership should be passing, Ross exasperated by the daily
struggle to dissuade his father from fatuous enterprises - had changed
Whitney's death from a grief to a relief. However, "appearances"
constrained Ross to a decent show of sorrow, compelled Mrs. Whitney to a
still stronger exhibit. Janet, who in far-away France had not been
touched by the financial anxieties, felt a genuine grief that gave her an
admirable stimulus to her efflorescent oversoul. She had "prepared for
the worst," had brought from Paris a marvelous mourning wardrobe - dresses
and hats and jewelry that set off her delicate loveliness as it had never
been set off before. She made of herself an embodiment, an apotheosis,
rather, of poetic woe - and so, roused to emulation her mother's passion
for pose. Ross had refused to gratify them even to the extent of taking a
spectator's part in their refined theatricals. The coming of Mrs. Ranger
and Adelaide gave them an audience other than servile; they proceeded to
strive to rise to the opportunity. The result of this struggle between
mother and daughter was a spectacle so painful that even Ellen,
determined to see only sincerity, found it impossible not to suspect a
grief that could find so much and such language in which to vent itself.
She fancied she appreciated why Ross eyed his mother and sister with
unconcealed hostility and spoke almost harshly when they compelled him to
break his silence.

Adelaide hardly gave the two women a thought. She was surprised to find
that she was looking at Ross and thinking of him quite calmly and most
critically. His face seemed to her trivial, with a selfishness that more
than suggested meanness, the eyes looking out from a mind which
habitually entertained ideas not worth a real man's while. What was the
matter with him - "or with me?" What is he thinking about? Why is he
looking so mean and petty? Why had he no longer the least physical
attraction for her? Why did her intense emotions of a few brief weeks
ago seem as vague as an unimportant occurrence of many years ago? What
had broken the spell? She could not answer her own puzzled questions;
she simply knew that it was so, that any idea that she did, or ever
could, love Ross Whitney was gone, and gone forever. "It's so," she
thought. "What's the difference why? Shall I never learn to let the
stove doors alone?"

As soon as lunch was over Matilda took Ellen to her boudoir and Ross went
away, leaving Janet and Adelaide to walk up and down the shaded west
terrace with its vast outlook upon the sinuous river and the hills. To
draw Janet from the painful theatricals, she took advantage of a casual
question about the lynching, and went into the details of that red
evening as she had not with anyone. It was now almost two months into the
past; but all Saint X was still feverish from it, and she herself had
only begun again to have unhaunted and unbroken sleep. While she was
relating Janet forgot herself; but when the story was told - all of it
except Adelaide's own part; that she entirely omitted - Janet went back to
her personal point of view. "A beautiful love story!" she exclaimed. "And
right here in prosaic Saint X!"

"Is it Saint X that is prosaic," said Adelaide, "or is it we, in failing
to see the truth about familiar things?"

"Perhaps," replied Janet, in the tone that means "not at all." To her a
thrill of emotion or a throb of pain felt by a titled person differed
from the same sensation in an untitled person as a bar of supernal or
infernal music differs from the whistling of a farm boy on his way to
gather the eggs; if the title was royal - Janet wept when an empress died
of a cancer and talked of her "heroism" for weeks.

"Of course," she went on musingly, to Adelaide, "it was very beautiful
for Lorry and Estelle to love each other. Still, I can't help feeling
that - At least, I can understand Arden Wilmot's rage. After all, Estelle
stepped out of her class; didn't she, Del?"

"Yes," said Del, not recognizing the remark as one she herself might have
made not many months before. "Both she and Lorry stepped out of their
classes, and into the class where there is no class, but only just men
and women, hearts and hands and brains." She checked herself just in time
to refrain from adding, "the class our fathers and mothers belonged in."

Janet did not inquire into the mystery of this. "And Estelle has gone to
live with poor Lorry's mother!" said she. "How noble and touching! Such
beautiful self-sacrifice!"

"Why self-sacrifice?" asked Del, irritated. "She couldn't possibly go
home, could she? And she is fond of Lorry's mother."

"Yes, of course. No doubt she's a dear, lovely old woman. But - a
washerwoman, and constant, daily contact - and not as lady and servant,
but on what must be, after all, a sort of equality - " Janet finished her
sentence with a ladylike look.

Adelaide burned with the resentment of the new convert. "A woman who
brought into the world and brought up such a son as Lorry was," said she,
"needn't yield to anybody." Then the silliness of arguing such a matter
with Madame la Marquise de Saint Berthè came over her. "You and I don't
look at life from the same standpoint, Janet," she added, smiling. "You
see, you're a lady, and I'm not - any more."

"Oh, yes, you are," Janet, the devoid of the sense of humor, hastened to
assure her earnestly. "You know we in France don't feel as they do in
America, that one gets or loses caste when one gets or loses money.
Besides, Dory is in a profession that is quite aristocratic, and those
lectures he delivered at Göttingen are really talked about everywhere on
the other side."

But Adelaide refused to be consoled. "No, I'm not a lady - not what you'd
call a lady, even as a Frenchwoman."

"Oh, but _I_'m a good American!" Janet protested, suddenly prudent and
rushing into the pretenses our transplanted and acclimatized sisters are
careful to make when talking with us of the land whence comes their sole
claim to foreign aristocratic consideration - their income. "I'm really
quite famous for my Americanism. I've done a great deal toward
establishing our ambassador at Paris in the best society. Coming from a
republic and to a republic that isn't recognized by our set in France, he
was having a hard time, though he and his wife are all right at home. Now
that there are more gentlemen in authority at Washington, our diplomats
are of a much better class than they used to be. Everyone over there says
so. Of course, you - that is we, are gradually becoming civilized and
building up an aristocracy."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Adelaide, feeling that she must change the
subject or show her exasperation, yet unable to find any subject which
Janet would not adorn with refined and cultured views. "Isn't Ross,
there, looking for you?"

He had just rushed from the house, his face, his manner violently
agitated. As he saw Adelaide looking at him, he folded and put in his
pocket a letter which seemed to be the cause of his agitation. When the
two young women came to where he was standing, he joined them and walked
up and down with them, his sister, between him and Del, doing all the
talking. Out of the corner of her eye Del saw that his gaze was bent


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Online LibraryDavid Graham PhillipsThe Second Generation → online text (page 25 of 26)