A Far Country
The Pilot published a series of sensational articles and editorials about the Galligan matter, a picture of Galligan, an account of the destitute state of his wife and family. The time had not yet arrived when such newspapers dared to attack the probity of our courts, but a system of law that permitted such palpable injustice because of technicalities was bitterly denounced. What chance had a poor man against such a moloch as the railroad, even with a lawyer of such ability as had been exhibited by Hermann Krebs? Krebs was praised, and the attention of Mr. Lawler's readers was called to the fact that Krebs was the man who, some years before, had opposed single-handed in the legislature the notorious Bill No. 709. It was well known in certain circles—the editorial went on to say—that this legislation had been drawn by Theodore Watling in the interests of the Boyne Iron Works, etc., etc. Hugh Paret had learned at the feet of an able master. This first sight of my name thus opprobriously flung to the multitude gave me an unpleasant shock. I had seen Mr. Scherer attacked, Mr. Gorse attacked, and Mr. Watling: I had all along realized, vaguely, that my turn would come, and I thought myself to have acquired a compensating philosophy. I threw the sheet into the waste basket, presently picked it out again and reread the sentence containing my name. Well, there were certain penalties that every career must pay. I had become, at last, a marked man, and I recognized the fact that this assault would be the forerunner of many.
I tried to derive some comfort and amusement from the thought of certain operations of mine that Mr. Lawler had not discovered, that would have been matters of peculiar interest to his innocent public: certain extra-legal operations at the time when the Bovine corporation was being formed, for instance. And how they would have licked their chops had they learned of that manoeuvre by which I had managed to have one of Mr. Scherer's subsidiary companies in another state, with property and assets amounting to more than twenty millions, reorganized under the laws of New Jersey, and the pending case thus transferred to the Federal court, where we won hands down! This Galligan affair was nothing to that. Nevertheless, it was annoying. As I sat in the street car on my way homeward, a man beside me was reading the Pilot. I had a queer sensation as he turned the page, and scanned the editorial; and I could not help wondering what he and the thousands like him thought of me; what he would say if I introduced myself and asked his opinion. Perhaps he did not think at all: undoubtedly he, and the public at large, were used to Mr. Lawler's daily display of "injustices." Nevertheless, like slow acid, they must be eating into the public consciousness. It was an outrage—this freedom of the press.
With renewed exasperation I thought of Krebs, of his disturbing and almost uncanny faculty of following me up. Why couldn't he have remained in Elkington? Why did he have to follow me here, to make capital out of a case that might never have been heard of except for him?... I was still in this disagreeable frame of mind when I turned the corner by my house and caught sight of Maude, in the front yard, bending bareheaded over a bed of late flowers which the frost had spared. The evening was sharp, the dusk already gathering.
"You'll catch cold," I called to her.
She looked up at the sound of my voice.
"They'll soon be gone," she sighed, referring to the flowers. "I hate winter."
She put her hand through my arm, and we went into the house. The curtains were drawn, a fire was crackling on the hearth, the lamps were lighted, and as I dropped into a chair this living-room of ours seemed to take on the air of a refuge from the vague, threatening sinister things of the world without. I felt I had never valued it before. Maude took up her sewing and sat down beside the table.
"Hugh," she said suddenly, "I read something in the newspaper—"
My exasperation flared up again.
"Where did you get that disreputable sheet?" I demanded.
"At the dressmaker's!" she answered. "I—I just happened to see the name, Paret."
"It's just politics," I declared, "stirring up discontent by misrepresentation. Jealousy."
She leaned forward in her chair, gazing into the flames.
"Then it isn't true that this poor man, Galligan—isn't that his name?—was cheated out of the damages he ought to have to keep himself and his family alive?"
"You must have been talking to Perry or Susan," I said. "They seem to be convinced that I am an oppressor of the poor.
"Hugh!" The tone in which she spoke my name smote me. "How can you say that? How can you doubt their loyalty, and mine? Do you think they would undermine you, and to me, behind your back?"
"I didn't mean that, of course, Maude. I was annoyed about something else. And Tom and Perry have an air of deprecating most of the enterprises in which I am professionally engaged. It's very well for them to talk. All Perry has to do is to sit back and take in receipts from the Boyne Street car line, and Tom is content if he gets a few commissions every week. They're like militiamen criticizing soldiers under fire. I know they're good friends of mine, but sometimes I lose patience with them."
I got up and walked to the window, and came back again and stood before her.
"I'm sorry for this man, Galligan," I went on, "I can't tell you how sorry. But few people who are not on the inside, so to speak, grasp the fact that big corporations, like the Railroad, are looked upon as fair game for every kind of parasite. Not a day passes in which attempts are not made to bleed them. Some of these cases are pathetic. It had cost the Railroad many times fifteen thousand dollars to fight Galligan's case. But if they had paid it, they would have laid themselves open to thousands of similar demands. Dividends would dwindle. The stockholders have a right to a fair return on their money. Galligan claims that there was a defective sill on the car which is said to have caused the wreck. If damages are paid on that basis, it means the daily inspection of every car which passes over their lines. And more than that: there are certain defects, as in the present case, which an inspection would not reveal. When a man accepts employment on a railroad he assumes a certain amount of personal risk,—it's not precisely a chambermaid's job. And the lawyer who defends such cases, whatever his personal feelings may be, cannot afford to be swayed by them. He must take the larger view."
"Why didn't you tell me about it before?" she asked.
"Well, I didn't think it of enough importance—these things are all in the day's work."
"But Mr. Krebs? How strange that he should be here, connected with the case!"
I made an effort to control myself.
"Your old friend," I said. "I believe you have a sentiment about him."
She looked up at me.
"Scarcely that," she replied gravely, with the literalness that often characterized her, "but he isn't a person easily forgotten. He may be queer, one may not agree with his views, but after the experience I had with him I've never been able to look at him in the way George does, for instance, or even as father does."
"Or even as I do," I supplied.
"Well, perhaps not even as you do," she answered calmly. "I believe you once told me, however, that you thought him a fanatic, but sincere."
"He's certainly a fanatic!" I exclaimed.
"But sincere, Hugh-you still think him sincere."
"You seem a good deal concerned about a man you've laid eyes on but once."
She considered this.
"Yes, it is surprising," she admitted, "but it's true. I was sorry for him, but I admired him. I was not only impressed by his courage in taking charge of me, but also by the trust and affection the work-people showed. He must be a good man, however mistaken he may be in the methods he employs. And life is cruel to those people."
"Life is-life," I observed. "Neither you nor I nor Krebs is able to change it."
"Has he come here to practice?" she asked, after a moment.
"Yes. Do you want me to invite him to dinner?" and seeing that she did not reply I continued: "In spite of my explanation I suppose you think, because Krebs defended the man Galligan, that a monstrous injustice has been done."
"That is unworthy of you," she said, bending over her stitch.
I began to pace the room again, as was my habit when overwrought.
"Well, I was going to tell you about this affair if you had not forestalled me by mentioning it yourself. It isn't pleasant to be vilified by rascals who make capital out of vilification, and a man has a right to expect some sympathy from his wife."
"Did I ever deny you that, Hugh?" she asked. "Only you don't ever seem to need it, to want it."
"And there are things," I pursued, "things in a man's province that a woman ought to accept from her husband, things which in the very nature of the case she can know nothing about."
"But a woman must think for herself," she declared. "She shouldn't become a mere automaton,—and these questions involve so much! People are discussing them, the magazines and periodicals are beginning to take them up."
I stared at her, somewhat appalled by this point of view. There had, indeed, been signs of its development before now, but I had not heeded them. And for the first time I beheld Maude in a new light.
"Oh, it's not that I don't trust you," she continued, "I'm open to conviction, but I must be convinced. Your explanation of this Galligan case seems a sensible one, although it's depressing. But life is hard and depressing sometimes I've come to realize that. I want to think over what you've said, I want to talk over it some more. Why won't you tell me more of what you are doing? If you only would confide in me—as you have now! I can't help seeing that we are growing farther and farther apart, that business, your career, is taking all of you and leaving me nothing." She faltered, and went on again. "It's difficult to tell you this—you never give me the chance. And it's not for my sake alone, but for yours, too. You are growing more and more self-centred, surrounding yourself with a hard shell. You don't realize it, but Tom notices it, Perry notices it, it hurts them, it's that they complain of. Hugh!" she cried appealingly, sensing my resentment, forestalling the words of defence ready on my lips. "I know that you are busy, that many men depend on you, it isn't that I'm not proud of you and your success, but you don't understand what a woman craves,—she doesn't want only to be a good housekeeper, a good mother, but she wants to share a little, at any rate, in the life of her husband, in his troubles as well as in his successes. She wants to be of some little use, of some little help to him."
My feelings were reduced to a medley.
"But you are a help to me—a great help," I protested.
She shook her head. "I wish I were," she said.
It suddenly occurred to me that she might be. I was softened, and alarmed by the spectacle she had revealed of the widening breach between us. I laid my hand on her shoulder.
"Well, I'll try to do better, Maude."
She looked up at me, questioningly yet gratefully, through a mist of tears. But her reply—whatever it might have been—was forestalled by the sound of shouts and laughter in the hallway. She sprang up and ran to the door.
"It's the children," she exclaimed, "they've come home from Susan's party!"
It begins indeed to look as if I were writing this narrative upside down, for I have said nothing about children. Perhaps one reason for this omission is that I did not really appreciate them, that I found it impossible to take the same minute interest in them as Tom, for instance, who was, apparently, not content alone with the six which he possessed, but had adopted mine. One of them, little Sarah, said "Uncle Tom" before "Father." I do not mean to say that I had not occasional moments of tenderness toward them, but they were out of my thoughts much of the time. I have often wondered, since, how they regarded me; how, in their little minds, they defined the relationship. Generally, when I arrived home in the evening I liked to sit down before my study fire and read the afternoon newspapers or a magazine; but occasionally I went at once to the nursery for a few moments, to survey with complacency the medley of toys on the floor, and to kiss all three. They received my caresses with a certain shyness—the two younger ones, at least, as though they were at a loss to place me as a factor in the establishment. They tumbled over each other to greet Maude, and even Tom. If I were an enigma to them, what must they have thought of him? Sometimes I would discover him on the nursery floor, with one or two of his own children, building towers and castles and railroad stations, or forts to be attacked and demolished by regiments of lead soldiers. He was growing comfortable-looking, if not exactly stout; prematurely paternal, oddly willing to renounce the fiercer joys of life, the joys of acquisition, of conquest, of youth.
"You'd better come home with me, Chickabiddy," he would say, "that father of yours doesn't appreciate you. He's too busy getting rich."
"Chickabiddy," was his name for little Sarah. Half of the name stuck to her, and when she was older we called her Biddy.
She would gaze at him questioningly, her eyes like blue flower cups, a strange little mixture of solemnity and bubbling mirth, of shyness and impulsiveness. She had fat legs that creased above the tops of the absurd little boots that looked to be too tight; sometimes she rolled and tumbled in an ecstasy of abandon, and again she would sit motionless, as though absorbed in dreams. Her hair was like corn silk in the sun, twisting up into soft curls after her bath, when she sat rosily presiding over her supper table.
As I look back over her early infancy, I realize that I loved her, although it is impossible for me to say how much of this love is retrospective. Why I was not mad about her every hour of the day is a puzzle to me now. Why, indeed, was I not mad about all three of them? There were moments when I held and kissed them, when something within me melted: moments when I was away from them, and thought of them. But these moments did not last. The something within me hardened again, I became indifferent, my family was wiped out of my consciousness as though it had never existed.
There was Matthew, for instance, the oldest. When he arrived, he was to Maude a never-ending miracle, she would have his crib brought into her room, and I would find her leaning over the bedside, gazing at him with a rapt expression beyond my comprehension. To me he was just a brick-red morsel of humanity, all folds and wrinkles, and not at all remarkable in any way. Maude used to annoy me by getting out of bed in the middle of the night when he cried, and at such times I was apt to wonder at the odd trick the life-force had played me, and ask myself why I got married at all. It was a queer method of carrying on the race. Later on, I began to take a cursory interest in him, to watch for signs in him of certain characteristics of my own youth which, in the philosophy of my manhood, I had come to regard as defects. And it disturbed me somewhat to see these signs appear. I wished him to be what I had become by force of will—a fighter. But he was a sensitive child, anxious for approval; not robust, though spiritual rather than delicate; even in comparative infancy he cared more for books than toys, and his greatest joy was in being read to. In spite of these traits—perhaps because of them—there was a sympathy between us. From the time that he could talk the child seemed to understand me. Occasionally I surprised him gazing at me with a certain wistful look that comes back to me as I write.
Moreton, Tom used to call Alexander the Great because he was a fighter from the cradle, beating his elder brother, too considerate to strike back, and likewise—when opportunity offered—his sister; and appropriating their toys. A self-sufficient, doughty young man, with the round head that withstands many blows, taking by nature to competition and buccaneering in general. I did not love him half so much as I did Matthew—if such intermittent emotions as mine may be called love. It was a standing joke of mine—which Maude strongly resented—that Moreton resembled Cousin George of Elkington.
Imbued with the highest ambition of my time, I had set my barque on a great circle, and almost before I realized it the barque was burdened with a wife and family and the steering had insensibly become more difficult; for Maude cared nothing about the destination, and when I took any hand off the wheel our ship showed a tendency to make for a quiet harbour. Thus the social initiative, which I believed should have been the woman's, was thrust back on me. It was almost incredible, yet indisputable, in a day when most American women were credited with a craving for social ambition that I, of all men, should have married a wife in whom the craving was wholly absent! She might have had what other women would have given their souls for. There were many reasons why I wished her to take what I deemed her proper place in the community as my wife—not that I cared for what is called society in the narrow sense; with me, it was a logical part of a broader scheme of life; an auxiliary rather than an essential, but a needful auxiliary; a means of dignifying and adorning the position I was taking. Not only that, but I felt the need of intercourse—of intercourse of a lighter and more convivial nature with men and women who saw life as I saw it. In the evenings when we did not go out into that world our city afforded ennui took possession of me: I had never learned to care for books, I had no resources outside of my profession, and when I was not working on some legal problem I dawdled over the newspapers and went to bed. I don't mean to imply that our existence, outside of our continued intimacy with the Peterses and the Blackwoods, was socially isolated. We gave little dinners that Maude carried out with skill and taste; but it was I who suggested them; we went out to other dinners, sometimes to Nancy's—though we saw less and less of her—sometimes to other houses. But Maude had given evidence of domestic tastes and a disinclination for gaiety that those who entertained more were not slow to sense. I should have liked to take a larger house, but I felt the futility of suggesting it; the children were still small, and she was occupied with them. Meanwhile I beheld, and at times with considerable irritation, the social world changing, growing larger and more significant, a more important function of that higher phase of American existence the new century seemed definitely to have initiated. A segregative process was away to which Maude was wholly indifferent. Our city was throwing off its social conservatism; wealth (which implied ability and superiority) was playing a greater part, entertainments were more luxurious, lines more strictly drawn. We had an elaborate country club for those who could afford expensive amusements. Much of this transformation had been due to the initiative and leadership of Nancy Durrett....
Great and sudden wealth, however, if combined with obscure antecedents and questionable qualifications, was still looked upon askance. In spite of the fact that Adolf Scherer had "put us on the map," the family of the great iron-master still remained outside of the social pale. He himself might have entered had it not been for his wife, who was supposed to be "queer," who remained at home in her house opposite Gallatin Park and made little German cakes,—a huge house which an unknown architect had taken unusual pains to make pretentious and hideous, for it was Rhenish, Moorish and Victorian by turns. Its geometric grounds matched those of the park, itself a monument to bad taste in landscape. The neighbourhood was highly respectable, and inhabited by families of German extraction. There were two flaxen-haired daughters who had just graduated from an expensive boarding-school in New York, where they had received the polish needful for future careers. But the careers were not forthcoming.
I was thrown constantly with Adolf Scherer; I had earned his gratitude, I had become necessary to him. But after the great coup whereby he had fulfilled Mr. Watling's prophecy and become the chief factor in our business world he began to show signs of discontent, of an irritability that seemed foreign to his character, and that puzzled me. One day, however, I stumbled upon the cause of this fermentation, to wonder that I had not discovered it before. In many ways Adolf Scherer was a child. We were sitting in the Boyne Club.
"Money—yes!" he exclaimed, apropos of some demand made upon him by a charitable society. "They come to me for my money—there is always Scherer, they say. He will make up the deficit in the hospitals. But what is it they do for me? Nothing. Do they invite me to their houses, to their parties?"
This was what he wanted, then,—social recognition. I said nothing, but I saw my opportunity: I had the clew, now, to a certain attitude he had adopted of late toward me, an attitude of reproach; as though, in return for his many favours to me, there were something I had left undone. And when I went home I asked Maude to call on Mrs. Scherer.
"On Mrs. Scherer!" she repeated.
"Yes, I want you to invite them to dinner." The proposal seemed to take away her breath. "I owe her husband a great deal, and I think he feels hurt that the wives of the men he knows down town haven't taken up his family." I felt that it would not be wise, with Maude, to announce my rather amazing discovery of the iron-master's social ambitions.
"But, Hugh, they must be very happy, they have their friends. And after all this time wouldn't it seem like an intrusion?"
"I don't think so," I said, "I'm sure it would please him, and them. You know how kind he's been to us, how he sent us East in his private car last year."
"Of course I'll go if you wish it, if you're sure they feel that way." She did make the call, that very week, and somewhat to my surprise reported that she liked Mrs. Scherer and the daughters: Maude's likes and dislikes, needless to say, were not governed by matters of policy.
"You were right, Hugh," she informed me, almost with enthusiasm, "they did seem lonely. And they were so glad to see me, it was rather pathetic. Mr. Scherer, it seems, had talked to them a great deal about you. They wanted to know why I hadn't come before. That was rather embarrassing. Fortunately they didn't give me time to talk, I never heard people talk as they do. They all kissed me when I went away, and came down the steps with me. And Mrs. Scherer went into the conservatory and picked a huge bouquet. There it is," she said, laughingly, pointing to several vases. "I separated the colours as well as I could when I got home. We had coffee, and the most delicious German cakes in the Turkish room, or the Moorish room, whichever it is. I'm sure I shan't be able to eat anything more for days. When do you wish to have them for dinner?"
"Well," I said, "we ought to have time to get the right people to meet them. We'll ask Nancy and Ham."
Maude opened her eyes.
"Nancy! Do you think Nancy would like them?"
"I'm going to give her a chance, anyway," I replied....
It was, in some ways, a memorable dinner. I don't know what I expected in Mrs. Scherer—from Maude's description a benevolent and somewhat stupid, blue-eyed German woman, of peasant extraction. There could be no doubt about the peasant extraction, but when she hobbled into our little parlour with the aid of a stout, gold-headed cane she dominated it. Her very lameness added to a distinction that evinced itself in a dozen ways. Her nose was hooked, her colour high,—despite the years in Steelville,—her peculiar costume heightened the effect of her personality; her fire-lit black eyes bespoke a spirit accustomed to rule, and instead of being an aspirant for social honours, she seemed to confer them. Conversation ceased at her entrance.
"I'm sorry we are late, my dear," she said, as she greeted Maude affectionately, "but we have far to come. And this is your husband!" she exclaimed, as I was introduced. She scrutinized me. "I have heard something of you, Mr. Paret. You are smart. Shall I tell you the smartest thing you ever did?" She patted Maude's shoulder. "When you married your wife—that was it. I have fallen in love with her. If you do not know it, I tell you."
Next, Nancy was introduced.
"So you are Mrs. Hambleton Durrett?"
Nancy acknowledged her identity with a smile, but the next remark was a bombshell.
"The leader of society."
"Alas!" exclaimed Nancy, "I have been accused of many terrible things."
Their glances met. Nancy's was amused, baffling, like a spark in amber. Each, in its way, was redoubtable. A greater contrast between two women could scarcely have been imagined. It was well said (and not snobbishly) that generations had been required to make Nancy's figure: she wore a dress of blue sheen, the light playing on its ripples; and as she stood, apparently wholly at ease, looking down at the wife of Adolf Scherer, she reminded me of an expert swordsman who, with remarkable skill, was keeping a too pressing and determined aspirant at arm's length. I was keenly aware that Maude did not possess this gift, and I realized for the first time something of the similarity between Nancy's career and my own. She, too, in her feminine sphere, exercised, and subtly, a power in which human passions were deeply involved.
If Nancy Durrett symbolized aristocracy, established order and prestige, what did Mrs. Scherer represent? Not democracy, mob rule—certainly. The stocky German peasant woman with her tightly drawn hair and heavy jewels seemed grotesquely to embody something that ultimately would have its way, a lusty and terrible force in the interests of which my own services were enlisted; to which the old American element in business and industry, the male counterpart of Nancy Willett, had already succumbed. And now it was about to storm the feminine fastnesses! I beheld a woman who had come to this country with a shawl aver her head transformed into a new species of duchess, sure of herself, scorning the delicate euphemisms in which Fancy's kind were wont to refer to asocial realm, that was no less real because its boundaries had not definitely been defined. She held her stick firmly, and gave Nancy an indomitable look.
"I want you to meet my daughters. Gretchen, Anna, come here and be introduced to Mrs. Durrett."
It was not without curiosity I watched these of the second generation as they made their bows, noted the differentiation in the type for which an American environment and a "finishing school" had been responsible. Gretchen and Anna had learned—in crises, such as the present—to restrain the superabundant vitality they had inherited. If their cheekbones were a little too high, their Delft blue eyes a little too small, their colour was of the proverbial rose-leaves and cream. Gene Hollister's difficulty was to know which to marry. They were nice girls,—of that there could be no doubt; there was no false modesty in their attitude toward "society"; nor did they pretend—as so many silly people did, that they were not attempting to get anywhere in particular, that it was less desirable to be in the centre than on the dubious outer walks. They, too, were so glad to meet Mrs. Durrett.
Nancy's eyes twinkled as they passed on.
"You see what I have let you in for?" I said.
"My dear Hugh," she replied, "sooner or later we should have had to face them anyhow. I have recognized that for some time. With their money, and Mr. Scherer's prestige, and the will of that lady with the stick, in a few years we should have had nothing to say. Why, she's a female Napoleon. Hilda's the man of the family."
After that, Nancy invariably referred to Mrs. Scherer as Hilda.
If Mrs. Scherer was a surprise to us, her husband was a still greater one; and I had difficulty in recognizing the Adolf Scherer who came to our dinner party as the personage of the business world before whom lesser men were wont to cringe. He seemed rather mysteriously to have shed that personality; become an awkward, ingratiating, rather too exuberant, ordinary man with a marked German accent. From time to time I found myself speculating uneasily on this phenomenon as I glanced down the table at his great torso, white waist-coated for the occasion. He was plainly "making up" to Nancy, and to Mrs. Ogilvy, who sat opposite him. On the whole, the atmosphere of our entertainment was rather electric. "Hilda" was chiefly responsible for this; her frankness was of the breath-taking kind. Far from attempting to hide or ignore the struggle by which she and her husband had attained their present position, she referred with the utmost naivete to incidents in her career, while the whole table paused to listen.
"Before we had a carriage, yes, it was hard for me to get about. I had to be helped by the conductors into the streetcars. I broke my hip when we lived in Steelville, and the doctor was a numbskull. He should be put in prison, is what I tell Adolf. I was standing on a clothes-horse, when it fell. I had much washing to do in those days."
"And—can nothing be done, Mrs. Scherer?" asked Leonard Dickinson, sympathetically.
"For an old woman? I am fifty-five. I have had many doctors. I would put them all in prison. How much was it you paid Dr. Stickney, in New York, Adolf? Five thousand dollars? And he did nothing—nothing. I'd rather be poor again, and work. But it is well to make the best of it."...
"Your grandfather was a fine man, Mr. Durrett," she informed Hambleton. "It is a pity for you, I think, that you do not have to work."
Ham, who sat on her other side, was amused.
"My grandfather did enough work for both of us," he said.
"If I had been your grandfather, I would have started you in puddling," she observed, as she eyed with disapproval the filling of his third glass of champagne. "I think there is too much gay life, too much games for rich young men nowadays. You will forgive me for saying what I think to young men?"
"I'll forgive you for not being my grandfather, at any rate," replied Ham, with unaccustomed wit.
She gazed at him with grim humour.
"It is bad for you I am not," she declared.
There was no gainsaying her. What can be done with a lady who will not recognize that morality is not discussed, and that personalities are tabooed save between intimates. Hilda was a personage as well as a Tartar. Laws, conventions, usages—to all these she would conform when it pleased her. She would have made an admirable inquisitorial judge, and quite as admirable a sick nurse. A rare criminal lawyer, likewise, was wasted in her. She was one of those individuals, I perceived, whose loyalties dominate them; and who, in behalf of those loyalties, carry chips on their shoulders.
"It is a long time that I have been wanting to meet you," she informed me. "You are smart."
I smiled, yet I was inclined to resent her use of the word, though I was by no means sure of the shade of meaning she meant to put into it. I had, indeed, an uneasy sense of the scantiness of my fund of humour to meet and turn such a situation; for I was experiencing, now, with her, the same queer feeling I had known in my youth in the presence of Cousin Robert Breck—the suspicion that this extraordinary person saw through me. It was as though she held up a mirror and compelled me to look at my soul features. I tried to assure myself that the mirror was distorted. I lost, nevertheless, the sureness of touch that comes from the conviction of being all of a piece. She contrived to resolve me again into conflicting elements. I was, for the moment, no longer the self-confident and triumphant young attorney accustomed to carry all before him, to command respect and admiration, but a complicated being whose unity had suddenly been split. I glanced around the table at Ogilvy, at Dickinson, at Ralph Hambleton. These men were functioning truly. But was I? If I were not, might not this be the reason for the lack of synthesis—of which I was abruptly though vaguely aware between my professional life, my domestic relationships, and my relationships with friends. The loyalty of the woman beside me struck me forcibly as a supreme trait. Where she had given, she did not withdraw. She had conferred it instantly on Maude. Did I feel that loyalty towards a single human being? towards Maude herself—my wife? or even towards Nancy? I pulled myself together, and resolved to give her credit for using the word "smart" in its unobjectionable sense. After all; Dickens had so used it.
"A lawyer must needs know something of what he is about, Mrs. Scherer, if he is to be employed by such a man as your husband," I replied.
Her black eyes snapped with pleasure.
"Ah, I suppose that is so," she agreed. "I knew he was a great man when I married him, and that was before Mr. Nathaniel Durrett found it out."
"But surely you did not think, in those days, that he would be as big as he has become? That he would not only be president of the Boyne Iron Works, but of a Boyne Iron Works that has exceeded Mr. Durrett's wildest dreams."
She shook her head complacently.
"Do you know what I told him when he married me? I said, 'Adolf, it is a pity you are born in Germany.' And when he asked me why, I told him that some day he might have been President of the United States."
"Well, that won't be a great deprivation to him," I remarked. "Mr. Scherer can do what he wants, and the President cannot."
"Adolf always does as he wants," she declared, gazing at him as he sat beside the brilliant wife of the grandson of the man whose red-shirted foreman he had been. "He does what he wants, and gets what he wants. He is getting what he wants now," she added, with such obvious meaning that I found no words to reply. "She is pretty, that Mrs. Durrett, and clever,—is it not so?"
I agreed. A new and indescribable note had come into Mrs. Scherer's voice, and I realized that she, too, was aware of that flaw in the redoubtable Mr. Scherer which none of his associates had guessed. It would have been strange if she had not discovered it. "She is beautiful, yes," the lady continued critically, "but she is not to compare with your wife. She has not the heart,—it is so with all your people of society. For them it is not what you are, but what you have done, and what you have."
The banality of this observation was mitigated by the feeling she threw into it.
"I think you misjudge Mrs. Durrett," I said, incautiously. "She has never before had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Scherer of appreciating him."
"Mrs. Durrett is an old friend of yours?" she asked.
"I was brought up with her."
"Ah!" she exclaimed, and turned her penetrating glance upon me. I was startled. Could it be that she had discerned and interpreted those renascent feelings even then stirring within me, and of which I myself was as yet scarcely conscious? At this moment, fortunately for me, the women rose; the men remained to smoke; and Scherer, as they discussed matters of finance, became himself again. I joined in the conversation, but I was thinking of those instants when in flashes of understanding my eyes had met Nancy's; instants in which I was lifted out of my humdrum, deadly serious self and was able to look down objectively upon the life I led, the life we all led—and Nancy herself; to see with her the comic irony of it all. Nancy had the power to give me this exquisite sense of detachment that must sustain her. And was it not just this sustenance she could give that I needed? For want of it I was hardening, crystallizing, growing blind to the joy and variety of existence. Nancy could have saved me; she brought it home to me that I needed salvation.... I was struck by another thought; in spite of our separation, in spite of her marriage and mine, she was still nearer to me—far nearer—than any other being.
Later, I sought her out. She looked up at me amusedly from the window-seat in our living-room, where she had been talking to the Scherer girls.
"Well, how did you get along with Hilda?" she asked. "I thought I saw you struggling."
"She's somewhat disconcerting," I said. "I felt as if she were turning me inside out."
"Hilda's a discovery—a genius. I'm going to have them to dinner myself."
"And Adolf?" I inquired. "I believe she thought you were preparing to run away with him. You seemed to have him hypnotized."
"I'm afraid your great man won't be able to stand—elevation," she declared. "He'll have vertigo. He's even got it now, at this little height, and when he builds his palace on Grant Avenue, and later moves to New York, I'm afraid he'll wobble even more."
"Is he thinking of doing all that?" I asked.
"I merely predict New York—it's inevitable," she replied. "Grant Avenue, yes; he wants me to help him choose a lot. He gave me ten thousand dollars for our Orphans' Home, but on the whole I think I prefer Hilda even if she doesn't approve of me."
Nancy rose. The Scherers were going. While Mr. Scherer pressed my hand in a manner that convinced me of his gratitude, Hilda was bidding an affectionate good night to Maude. A few moments later she bore her husband and daughters away, and we heard the tap-tap of her cane on the walk outside....