Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The Bell in the Fog and Other Stories online

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to keep their best bits of news for him. A low trick that; not but what
I'd do it myself if I had his salary. He got a scoop last year, and you
couldn't speak to him for a month after. Mrs. Foster, - she's one of the
biggest guns, you know, a regular cannon, - refurnished her house last
summer, and all the New York papers wanted photographs. She went
cranky, and said they shouldn't have them. Wouldn't even listen to
Lancaster's pleadings. But he hadn't jollied the butler for nothing. She
didn't stop here last summer - only came down every two weeks and
rearranged every stick of the furniture. The butler was nearly
distracted. It was as much as his place was worth to have her find any
of the chairs out of place, and the rooms had to be swept. So he hit on
a plan. He bought a camera and photographed the rooms every time Mrs.
Foster came down. One day he met Lancaster on the avenue and confided
his method of keeping up with the old lady. You may be sure Lancaster
was not long getting a set of those photos. It cost the newspaper a pot
of money, for the butler was no fool. But there they were next Sunday.
And Mrs. Foster doesn't know to this day how it was done."

Webb listened with mingled amusement and dismay. He was slowly beginning
to realize the determined segregation, from the common herd, of these
people, to whom he had come so confidently to offer homage. He changed
the subject.

"I don't want to stay here, don't you know," he said, glancing
scornfully over his shoulder at the hotel which in its day had housed
the most distinguished in the land. "What would you advise? Take a
cottage?"

"Take a cottage!" Mr. Chapman fairly gasped. "Are you a millionaire in
disguise? If you were, I don't believe you could get one. The swells
shut up theirs when they don't come, or let them to their friends. The
others are mostly taken year after year by the same people. No; I'll
tell you what you want - a bachelor's apartment. They are not so easy to
get either, but I happen to know of one. It was rented four years ago by
Jack Delancy, but he blew in most of his money, and then tried to
recuperate on cordage. The bottom fell out of that, and now goodness
knows where he is. At all events, his apartment is to let. Suppose we go
now and see it. There's no time to lose."

Andrew assented willingly, profoundly thankful that he had met Mr.
Chapman. The apartment was near the hotel. They found it still vacant,
furnished with a certain bold distinction. The rent was high, but Andrew
stifled the economic promptings of his nature, and manfully signed a
check. That night there was nothing to be seen in Newport, not even a
moon. The city was like a necropolis. Andrew gratefully employed his
leisure hunting for servants. The following day he was comfortably
installed and had invited the fortunate Mr. Chapman to dinner. He found
that gentleman next morning on the beach, taking snap-shots at the
bathers.

"This sort of thing goes," Chapman said, "although these people are just
plain tourists. I label them 'the beautiful Miss Brown,' or 'the famous
Miss Jones,' and the average reader swallows it, to say nothing of the
fact that it makes the paper look well. The swells won't go in with the
common herd, and want the ocean fenced in too, as it were. There are
some of them over there in their carriages, taking a languid interest in
the scene because they've nothing better to do. But they'd no more think
of getting out and sitting on this balcony, as they do at Narragansett,
than they'd ride in a street-car. Want to go up to the Casino and see
the stage go off? That's one of the sights."

Andrew had spent a half-hour the evening before gazing at the graceful
brown building which had long been a part of his dreams. He welcomed the
prospect of seeing a phase of its brilliant life.

They reached the Casino a few minutes before the coach started. A large
round-shouldered man, with face and frame of phlegmatic mould, occupied
the seat and swung his whip with a bored and absent air. Two or three
girls, clad in apotheosized organdie, and close hats, were already on
top of the coach. An elderly beau was assiduously attending upon a young
woman who was about to mount the ladder. She was a plain girl, with an
air of refined health, and simply clad in white.

"She's worth sixteen million dollars in her own right," said Chapman,
with a groan.

On the sidewalk, between the Casino and the coach, were two groups of
girls. One group gazed up at their friends on the coach, wishing them
good-fortune; the other gazed upon the first, eagerly and enviously.
Andrew looked from one to the other. The girls who talked to those on
the coach wore organdie frocks of simple but marvellous construction.
Shading their young pellucid eyes, their bare polished brows, were large
Leghorn hats covered with expensive feathers or flowers. Air, carriage,
complexion, manner, each was a part of the unmistakable uniform of the
New York girl of fashion. But the others? Andrew put the question to
Chapman.

"Oh, they're natives. We call them that to distinguish them from the
cottagers. They get close whenever they get a chance, and copy the
cottagers' clothes and manners. But it doesn't take a magnifying-glass
to see the difference."

Andrew looked with a pity he did not admit was fellow-feeling at the
pretty girls with their bright complexions, their merely stylish
clothes - which reminded him of Polly's - the inferior feathers in their
chip hats. The sharp contrast between the two groups of girls was almost
painful.

"I've got to leave you," said Chapman; "but I'll see you later. Take
care of yourself."

The horn tooted, the whip cracked, the coach started. The men on the
club balcony above the Casino watched it lazily. The street between the
coach and the green wall opposite had been blocked with carriages that
now rolled away.

Webb turned his attention to the group of cottagers. One of the girls
wore a yellow organdie trimmed with black velvet ribbons, a large
Leghorn covered with yellow feathers and black velvet. She was not
pretty, but she had "an air," and that was supremest beauty in Andrew's
eyes. Another was in lilac, another in pink. Each had the same sleek
brown hair, the same ivory complexion. In attendance was a tall clumsily
built but very imposing young man with sleepy blue eyes and a mighty
mustache. The girls paid him marked attention.

They chatted for a few moments, then walked through the entrance of
the Casino, over the lawn, towards the lower balcony of the horseshoe
surrounding it. Andrew followed, fascinated. The young man in
attendance walked after the manner of his kind, and Andrew,
unconsciously imitating him, ascended the steps, seated himself with
an air of elaborate indifference opposite the party in the narrow
semicircle, and composed his face into an expression of blank
abstraction. His trouble was wasted: they did not see him. They had an
air of seeing no one in the world but their kind. One of the girls, to
Andrew's horror, crossed her knees and swung her foot airily. The young
man sank into a slouching position. Another girl joined the group, but
he did not rise when introduced, nor offer to get her a chair. She was
obliged to perform that office, at some difficulty, for herself.

The band began to play. Andrew leaned forward, gazing at the floor,
intent upon hearing these people actually converse. But their talk only
came to him in snatches between the rise and fall of the music. Like
many other New-Yorkers, he had a deaf ear.

"My things disappear so" - (from the yellow girl) ... "I suspect my maid
wears them.... Don't really know what I have.... Don't dare say
anything." This was said with a languid drawl which Andrew thought
delicious.

All laughed.

"Shall you go to Paris this year?"

"I don't know ... till time comes.... Then we keep four servants up all
night packing.... Must have some new gowns.... You know how you have to
talk to Ducet and Paquin yourself."

The young man went to sleep. The girls put their heads together and
whispered. After a time they arose with a little capricious air, which
completed Andrew's subjugation, and strolled away.


VI

That evening, as he sat with Chapman over the coffee in the stately
little dining-room of the victim of cordage, the journalist remarked
suddenly:

"I say, old fellow, you don't seem to be in it. Don't you know anybody
here at all?"

Andrew shook his head gloomily.

"Well, you'll have a stupid time, I'm afraid. There are only three
classes of people that come to Newport - the swells, the people who want
to see the swells, and the correspondents whose unhappy fate it is to
report the doings of the swells. Now, what on earth did you come here
for?"

Andrew had not a confiding nature, but he could not repress a dark
flush. The astute little journalist understood it.

"It's too bad you didn't bring a letter or two. One would have made it
easy work. You look as well as any of them, and you've got the boodle.
Where did you come from, anyway?"

"New York."

Chapman puckered his lips about his cigar. "That's bad. It's harder for
a non-commissioned New-Yorker to get into society than for a
district-attorney to get into heaven. Didn't you make any swagger
friends at college?"

"I never went to college."

"Too bad! A man should always strain a point to get to college. If he's
clever he can make friends there that he can 'work' for the rest of his
life."

Little by little, with adroit use of the detective faculty of the modern
reporter, he extracted from Webb the tale of his years - even the extent
of his fortune. The young aspirant's ingenuousness made him gasp more
than once; but he had too kindly a nature to state to Webb the
hopelessness of his case. His new friend was manly and generous, and had
won from him a sincere liking, tempered with pity. Better let him find
out for himself how things stood; then, when his eyes were open, steer
him out of his difficulties.

He rose in a few moments. "Well," he said, cheerily, "I wish I were
Lancaster. I might be able to do something for you: but I'm not in
it - not for a cent. You may as well take in the passing show, however.
The first Casino hop is on to-night. Put on your togs and go."

"Anybody there?" asked Andrew, loftily.

"Oh, rather. All the cottagers will be there, or a goodly number of
them. And it's a pretty sight."

"But how can I get in?"

"By paying the sum of one dollar, old man."

Andrew's cigar dropped from his mouth.

"Do you mean to say that _they_ go to a place and dance - in full
dress - on the floor - with everybody? Why, any one can pay a dollar."

Chapman laughed. "Oh! - well - go and see how it is for yourself. Meet me
in the gallery at ten, and I'll tell you who's who. _Au revoir_."

* * * * *

At half-past nine Andrew stood before his mirror and regarded himself
meditatively. Without vanity, he could admit that so far as appearance
counted he would be an ornament to any ballroom. His strong young figure
carried its evening clothes with the air of a gentleman, not of a
waiter. He had seen fashionable men in Delmonico's who needed their
facial tresses to avoid confusion. Chapman had that day pointed out to
him two scions of distinguished name whose "sideboards" had caused him
to mistake them for coachmen. He stroked his own mustache. It had never
been cut, and was as silken as the hair of the ladies he worshipped. His
head had been cropped by the most fashionable barber in New York. He
wore no jewels. In a word, he was correct, and he assured himself of the
fact with proud humility. Nevertheless, his heart was heavy behind his
irreproachable waistcoat.

From his apartment it was but a few steps to the Casino. He walked there
without injury to his pumps, bought his ticket at the office, half
fearing that it would be refused him, and sauntered across the lawn to
the inner door of the ballroom. The horseshoe was brilliantly lighted,
and, with its airy architecture, looked as if awaiting a revel of the
fairies. The cottagers, Andrew understood, would alight at an outside
door. They were subscribers, and the office was not for them.

He went up to the gallery to await his friend. It was less than a fourth
occupied by pretty girls - "natives," he recognized at once. Some wore
hats, others were in local substitute for full dress - a muslin or Indian
silk turned away at the throat, a flower in the hair. He took a chair
before the railing. The one beside him was occupied by a handsome
dark-eyed girl who had made a brave attempt to be smart. She wore a red
silk frock and a red rose in her rough abundant hair. Round her white
throat she had gracefully arranged some silk lace. Andrew paid that
tribute to her charms of one whose eyes have been too long accustomed to
great works of art to take any interest in the chromo. Nevertheless, he
was young and she was young. They flirted mildly until Chapman came in
and introduced them.

"Miss Leslie is an old friend of mine, Webb," he said in his hearty way.
"I hope you will be friends too."

Miss Leslie bowed and beamed and flashed her pretty teeth. Andrew made
some vague remark, wondering at the spite of fate, then forgot her
utterly. Chapman had whispered to him that the cottagers were coming.

He leaned eagerly over the rail. A number of buxom dames, accompanied by
slender girls, were filing in. Some of the old women were in white
satin, with many jewels on their platitudinous bosoms. The slim
sisterhood, with their deerlike movements, their curried hair arranged
to simulate a walnut on the crown of their little heads, their tiny
waists and white necks and arms, riveted Andrew's gaze as ever. Some
looked like Easter lilies in their pure white gowns, others like
delicate orchids. One beautiful young woman, evidently a matron, wore a
gown of black gauze, with a row of sparkling crescents, stars, and
clusters, about the low line of the corsage.

"Isn't she lovely?" whispered Miss Leslie. "_She_ got a French Duke. But
she deserved her luck. She's sweet."

All were very _décolletée_.

"Reminds one of the days when slaves were put up on sale at the mart,
not far from this very spot," murmured Chapman.

One sprightly matron entered with an imperious air, and was immediately
surrounded.

"Who's she?" inquired Andrew, scornfully. "Why, her frock and gloves are
soiled, and her hair's dyed."

"Oh, she's out of sight, my boy! Once in a while they do look like that.
She's going to lead things this summer. Wish she'd hurry up!" Then he
named a number of people to Webb.

The band on the platform facing the triple row of seats at the far end
began a waltz. Most of the men were elderly and well preserved. They
danced with the girls. The half-dozen youths improved their chances by
assiduous attentions to the unwieldy dames. Andrew thought that his
princesses danced very badly. Many of them were taller than the men, and
looked about to go head first over the shoulders whose support they
seemed to disdain. The little ones bounded like rubber balls. The old
women formed groups and gossiped. A number sat about a plethoric lady,
whose diamonds made her look like a crystal chandelier. Chapman informed
Webb that she was a duchess.

"You see that fellow over there!" he exclaimed, suddenly, indicating
with the point of his lead-pencil a young man with a vulgar, vacuous
face and a clumsy assumption of the grand air; "well, he was nobody a
year ago, - a distant connection of the Webbs; but they never recognized
his existence until he came into some money. Then they took him up, and
now he's out of sight. It's too bad you didn't happen to be that kind of
Webb. You look a long sight more of a gentleman than he does."

"Are any of the Webbs here?" asked Andrew, choking with bitterness.

"There's the old girl over there. Regular old ice-chest."

"Is - is - Schuyler Churchill Webb here?"

"He's just come in. He is talking to the duchess - the French one."

Andrew gazed with dull hatred at the plain amiable-looking young man,
whose air of indefinable elegance seemed to reach forth and smite him in
the face. The gulf, which had been a gradually widening rift, seemed
suddenly to yawn.

"Well, I must go," said Chapman. "I have to get my stuff off, you know.
Will see you in the morning."

As he left, Miss Leslie renewed her pleasantries, hoping that Andrew
would ask her to go down and dance. She was terribly afraid of the great
folk, poor little soul, but she felt that this strong self-reliant young
man would protect her. Andrew excused himself in a few moments, however,
and went down-stairs. He had bought the right to be in the same room
with those people, and he would claim it.

The treble row of seats was evidently reserved for strangers; no
cottagers were at that end of the room. They sat about the other three
sides with an air of being on their own ground. Andrew walked resolutely
into the room, and took possession of one of the chairs reserved for his
kind. He had only three or four neighbors; most of the tourists had gone
up-stairs, and were darkly surveying the scene. There were no
decorations, but the dowagers were a jewelled dado, the girls an
animated bed of blossoms.


VII

For one hour Andrew sat there, and at its end he comprehended why the
cottagers did not concern themselves about the tickets sold. Not one
icy glance had been directed at the treble row of seats, not one
inquiring stare bent upon the occasional tourist-couple who summoned
courage to take a whirl. He and his companions might have been invisible
intruders on a foreign planet, for all the notice the elect took of
them. There was nothing overt, nothing unkind, but the stranger was as
effectually frozen out as if he had fled before a battery of lorgnettes.
The cottagers were like one large family. There was no more reserve
among the young people than if they had been a party of happy
well-trained schoolchildren. What wonder that the stranger within their
gates felt his remoteness! During the "Lancers" they almost romped. They
might have been on the lawn of one of their own cottages, and these
outsiders hanging on the fence. To any and all without their world they
were unaffectedly oblivious.

At the end of the hour Andrew rose heavily and left his seat. His face
was gray, his knees shook a little. He understood.

* * * * *

But his cup of bitterness was not yet full. As he made his way down the
passage behind one of the rows of chairs reserved for the cottagers, he
beheld a girl who had just entered. He stood still and stared at her,
wondering that he had ever thought other women beautiful. If those he
had worshipped were princesses, this was a goddess. Only New York could
give her that nameless distinction, so curiously unlike the graceful
breeding of older lands, - the difference between the hothouse orchid and
the lily of ancient parks. This girl's figure was more Junoesque than
was usual with her kind, her waist larger. She was very tall. Her
carriage was one of regal simplicity, as if she were wont to walk on
stars. Her shining brown hair was gathered into a knot at the base of
her classic head. Her brow and chin and throat were perfect in their
modelling. Her skin, of a marvellous whiteness, seemed to shed a light
of its own; one might surely examine it with a microscope and find no
flaw. Her mouth and nose were irregular, but her large blue-gray eyes
shone triumphant, and she had beautiful ears. She wore a simple gown of
pale blue organdie, clinging to her faultless figure, even at the throat
and wrists. At her right was the new-found relative of the Webbs, half a
head too short to reach that exquisite ear with his mumblings. About her
were several other men.

Andrew's capacity for love may not have been very profound, but he loved
this woman at once and finally. It was a love that would have delighted
the cynical Schopenhauer and the philosophical Darwin. The instinct of
selection had never been more spontaneously and unerringly exercised. He
was conscious of neither passion nor sentiment, however. She hovered in
his visions as a companion at great functions - his possession whom all
the world would envy. It was not so much she he loved as what she
represented.

His attention was momentarily distracted by the remarkable antics of an
elderly man. This person was bowing and genuflecting before the goddess,
rolling his eyes upward, throwing out his hands, clasping and wringing
them - a pantomime of speechless admiration. To Andrew he looked like an
elderly billy-goat with a thorn in its hoof. The goddess looked down
upon him with an expression of good-natured contempt. The men applauded
heartily. Andrew once more riveted his gaze on the face which had
completed his undoing. In a moment the girl's clear eyes met his, then
moved past as indifferently as if she had gazed upon space. Andrew
turned, forgetting his hat, and almost ran from the house, down the
street, and up the stairs to his apartment. He flung himself into a
chair, buried his face in his hands, and groaned aloud. The hopelessness
of his case surged through his brain with pitiless reiteration. He
might as well attempt to fly to one of the cold stars above his casement
as to besiege the society of New York. There was literally no human
being out of earth's millions to give him the line that would pass him
through those open invincible portals. Had he been a baboon from Central
Africa, his chances would have been better; he would have compelled
their attention for a moment.

There were heavy _portières_ over his door; no one could hear his
groans, and he afforded himself that measure of relief. The tears ran
down his cheeks; he twisted his strong hands together. Those whose
hearts have been convulsed by the bitterness of love, by the loss of
children, by the downfall of great hopes, may read with scorn this
suffering of a snob. It may seem a mean and trivial emotion. But he has
had scant opportunity to study his kind who knows nothing of the power
of the snob to suffer. An artist may toil on unrecognized, yet with the
deep delight of his art as compensation. A man in public life may be
stung with a thousand bitter defeats, but he has the joy of the fight,
the self-respect of legitimate ambition. But for the repeated defeats of
even the successful snob, what compensation? Step by step he climbs, to
find another still to mount, each bristling with obstacles, to which he
yields the shreds and patches of his self-respect. The bitter knowledge
that he is on tolerance is ever with him - that no matter how high he
rises, he can never reach his goal, for at the goal are only those who
have never known the need to strive. 'Tis a constant battle for a
soap-bubble, an ambition without soul.

And Andrew? He had not even planted his foot on the first step. For five
years he had lived in a fool's paradise, a corroding dream. There was
literally nothing else on earth that he wanted. His money had come to
him as the very irony of Fate. It could not give him the one thing he
wished, and he had no other use for it. His dream was over. He felt like
an aged man set free from an asylum for the demented after a period of
incarceration which had devoured the good years of his life. He looked
at what still seemed wealth to him as such a man would look at all the
joys of light and liberty and taste, offered to his paralyzed senses.

When the sun rose it shone down with an air of personal sympathy upon
the fleet of white yachts in the bay, upon the grand old avenues, upon
the relics of an historic past no cottager ever thinks of, upon the
splendid houses of those who have made Newport's younger fame. And it
straggled through one pair of heavy curtains and gleamed upon the white
face of a young man who had joined the ranks of those that proclaim the
world their conqueror.




VII

Crowned with One Crest

(Published in _Vanity Fair_, London, in 1895)


People were beginning to wonder if an American, having captured a title
and worn it for five years, would renounce it for mere good looks and
brains; in other words, if Lady Carnath, formerly Miss Edith Ingoldsby,
of Washington, and still earlier - before her father had found leisure to
crown a triumphant financial career with the patriotic labors of a
United States Senator - of Boone, Iowa, would marry Butler Hedworth,
M.P., a gentleman of some fortune and irreproachable lineage who had
already made himself known on the floor of the House, but was not so
much as heir-presumptive to a title. So many American maidens had


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Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe Bell in the Fog and Other Stories → online text (page 9 of 14)