Another week-end came, and with it an invitation from the Lester Todds to visit them at their country place in New Jersey. Montague was buried in his books, but his brother routed him out with strenuous protests. His case be damned—was he going to ruin his career for one case? At all hazards, he must meet people—"people who counted." And the Todds were such, a big money crowd, and a power in the insurance world; if Montague were going to be an insurance lawyer, he could not possibly decline their invitation. Freddie Vandam would be a guest—and Montague smiled at the tidings that Betty Wyman would be there also. He had observed that his brother's week-end visits always happened at places where Betty was, and where Betty's granddaddy was not.
So Montague's man packed his grips, and Alice's maid her trunks; and they rode with a private-car party to a remote Jersey suburb, and were whirled in an auto up a broad shell road to a palace upon the top of a mountain. Here lived the haughty Lester Todds, and scattered about on the neighbouring hills, a set of the ultra-wealthy who had withdrawn to this seclusion. They were exceedingly "classy"; they affected to regard all the Society of the city with scorn, and had their own all-the-year-round diversions—an open-air horse show in summer, and in the fall fox-hunting in fancy uniforms.
The Lester Todds themselves were ardent pursuers of all varieties of game, and in various clubs and private preserves they followed the seasons, from Florida and North Carolina to Ontario, with occasional side trips to Norway, and New Brunswick, and British Columbia. Here at home they had a whole mountain of virgin forest, carefully preserved; and in the Renaissance palace at the summit-which they carelessly referred to as a "lodge"—you would find such articles de vertu as a ten-thousand-dollar table with a set of two-thousand-dollar chairs, and quite ordinary-looking rugs at ten and twenty thousand dollars each.—All these prices you might ascertain without any difficulty at all, because there were many newspaper articles describing the house to be read in an album in the hall. On Saturday afternoons Mrs. Todd welcomed the neighbours in a pastel grey reception-gown, the front of which contained a peacock embroidered in silk, with jewels in every feather, and a diamond solitaire for an eye; and in the evening there was a dance, and she appeared in a gown with several hundred diamonds sewn upon it, and received her guests upon a rug set with jewels to match.
All together, Montague judged this the "fastest" set he had yet encountered; they ate more and drank more and intrigued more openly. He had been slowly acquiring the special lingo of Society, but these people had so much more slang that he felt all lost again. A young lady who was gossiping to him about those present remarked that a certain youth was a "spasm"; and then, seeing the look of perplexity upon his face, she laughed, "I don't believe you know what I mean!" Montague replied that he had ventured to infer that she did not like him.
And then there was Mrs. Harper, who came from Chicago by way of London. Ten years ago Mrs. Harper had overwhelmed New York with the millions brought from her great department-store; and had then moved on, sighing for new worlds to conquer. When she had left Chicago, her grammar had been unexceptionable; but since she had been in England, she said "you ain't" and dropped all her g's; and when Montague brought down a bird at long range, she exclaimed, condescendingly, "Why, you're quite a dab at it!" He sat in the front seat of an automobile, and heard the great lady behind him referring to the sturdy Jersey farmers, whose ancestors had fought the British and Hessians all over the state, as "your peasantry."
It was an extraordinary privilege to have Mrs. Harper for a guest; "at home" she moved about in state recalling that of Queen Victoria, with flags and bunting on the way, and crowds of school children cheering. She kept up half a dozen establishments, and had a hundred thousand acres of game preserves in Scotland. She made a speciality of collecting jewels which had belonged to the romantic and picturesque queens of history. She appeared at the dance in a breastplate of diamonds covering the entire front of her bodice, so that she was literally clothed in light; and with her was her English friend, Mrs. Percy, who had accompanied her in her triumph through the courts and camps of Europe, and displayed a famous lorgnette-chain, containing one specimen of every rare and beautiful jewel known. Mrs. Percy wore a gown of cloth of gold tissue, covered with a fortune in Venetian lace, and made a tremendous sensation—until the rumour spread that it was a rehash of the costume which Mrs. Harper had worn at the Duchess of London's ball. The Chicago lady herself never by any chance appeared in the same costume twice.
Alice had a grand time at the Todds'; all the men fell in love with her—one in particular, a young chap named Fayette, quite threw himself at her feet. He was wealthy, but unfortunately he had made his money by eloping with a rich girl (who was one of the present party), and so, from a practical point of view, his attentions were not desirable for Alice.
Montague was left with the task of finding these things out for himself, for his brother devoted himself exclusively to Betty Wyman. The way these two disappeared between meals was a jest of the whole company; so that when they were on their way home, Montague felt called upon to make paternal inquiries.
"We're as much engaged as we dare to be," Oliver answered him.
"And when do you expect to marry her?"
"God knows," said he, "I don't. The old man wouldn't give her a cent."
"And you couldn't support her?"
"I? Good heavens, Allan—do you suppose Betty would consent to be poor?"
"Have you asked her?" inquired Montague.
"I don't want to ask her, thank you! I've not the least desire to live in a hovel with a girl who's been brought up in a palace."
"Then what do you expect to do?"
"Well, Betty has a rich aunt in a lunatic asylum. And then I'm making money, you know—and the old boy will have to relent in the end. And we're having a very good time in the meanwhile, you know."
"You can't be very much in love," said Montague—to which his brother replied cheerfully that they were as much in love as they felt like being.
This was on the train Monday morning. Oliver observed that his brother relapsed into a brown study, and remarked, "I suppose you're going back now to bury yourself in your books. You've got to give me one evening this week for a dinner that's important."
"Where's that?" asked the other.
"Oh, it's a long story," said Oliver. "I'll explain it to you some time. But first we must have an understanding about next week, also—I suppose you've not overlooked the fact that it's Christmas week. And you won't be permitted to do any work then."
"But that's impossible!" exclaimed the other.
"Nothing else is possible," said Oliver, firmly. "I've made an engagement for you with the Eldridge Devons up the Hudson—"
"For the whole week?"
"The whole week. And it'll be the most important thing you've done. Mrs. Winnie's going to take us all in her car, and you will make no end of indispensable acquaintances."
"Oliver, I don't see how in the world I can do it!" the other protested in dismay, and went on for several minutes arguing and explaining what he had to do. But Oliver contented himself with the assurance that where there's a will, there's a way. One could not refuse an invitation to spend Christmas with the Eldridge Devons!
And sure enough, there was a way. Mr. Hasbrook had mentioned to him that he had had considerable work done upon the case, and would have the papers sent round. And when Montague reached his office that morning, he found them there. There was a package of several thousand pages; and upon examining them, he found to his utter consternation that they contained a complete bill of complaint, with all the necessary references and citations, and a preliminary draught of a brief—in short, a complete and thoroughgoing preparation of his case. There could not have been less than ten or fifteen thousand dollars' worth of work in the papers; and Montague sat quite aghast, turning over the neatly typewritten sheets. He could indeed afford to attend Christmas house parties, if all his clients were to treat him like this!
He felt a little piqued about it—for he had noted some of these points for himself, and felt a little proud about them. Apparently he was to be nothing but a figure-head in the case! And he turned to the phone and called up Mr. Hasbrook, and asked him what he expected him to do with these papers. There was the whole case here; and was he simply to take them as they stood?
No one could have replied more considerately than did Mr. Hasbrook. The papers were for Montague's benefit—he would do exactly as he pleased with them. He might use them as they stood, or reject them altogether, or make them the basis for his own work—anything that appealed to his judgment would be satisfactory. And so Montague turned about and wrote an acceptance to the formal invitation which had come from the Eldridge Devons.
Later on in the day Oliver called up, and said that he was to go out to dinner the following evening, and that he would call for him at eight. "It's with the Jack Evanses," Oliver added. "Do you know them?"
Montague had heard the name, as that of the president of a chain of Western railroads. "Do you mean him?" he asked.
"Yes," said the other. "They're a rum crowd, but there's money in it. I'll call early and explain it to you."
But it was explained sooner than that. During the next afternoon Montague had a caller—none other than Mrs. Winnie Duval. Some one had left Mrs. Winnie some more money, it appeared; and there was a lot of red tape attached to it, which she wanted the new lawyer to attend to. Also, she said, she hoped that he would charge her a lot of money by way of encouraging himself. It was a mere bagatelle of a hundred thousand or so, from some forgotten aunt in the West.
The business was soon disposed of, and then Mrs. Winnie asked Montague if he had any place to go to for dinner that evening: which was the occasion of his mentioning the Jack Evanses. "O dear me!" said Mrs. Winnie, with a laugh. "Is Ollie going to take you there? What a funny time you'll have!"
"Do you know them?" asked the other.
"Heavens, no!" was the answer. "Nobody knows them; but everybody knows about them. My husband meets old Evans in business, of course, and thinks he's a good sort. But the family—dear me!"
"How much of it is there?"
"Why, there's the old lady, and two grown daughters and a son. The son's a fine chap, they say—the old man took him in hand and put him at work in the shops. But I suppose he thought that daughters were too much of a proposition for him, and so he sent them to a fancy school—and, I tell you, they're the most highly polished human specimens that ever you encountered!"
It sounded entertaining. "But what does Oliver want with them?" asked Montague, wonderingly.
"It isn't that he wants them—they want him. They're cumbers, you know—perfectly frantic. They've come to town to get into Society."
"Then you mean that they pay Oliver?" asked Montague.
"I don't know that," said the other, with a laugh. "You'll have to ask Ollie. They've a number of the little brothers of the rich hanging round them, picking up whatever plunder's in sight."
A look of pain crossed Montague's face; and she saw it, and put out her hand with a sudden gesture. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "I've offended you!"
"No," said he, "it's not that exactly—I wouldn't be offended. But I'm worried about my brother."
"How do you mean?"
"He gets a lot of money somehow, and I don't know what it means."
The woman sat for a few moments in silence, watching him. "Didn't he have any when he came here?" she asked.
"Not very much," said he.
"Because," she went on, "if he didn't, he certainly managed it very cleverly—we all thought he had."
Again there was a pause; then suddenly Mrs. Winnie said: "Do you know, you feel differently about money from the way we do in New York. Do you realize it?"
"I'm not sure," said he. "How do you mean?"
"You look at it in an old-fashioned sort of way—a person has to earn it—it's a sign of something he's done. It came to me just now, all in a flash—we don't feel that way about money. We haven't any of us earned ours; we've just got it. And it never occurs to us to expect other people to earn it—all we want to know is if they have it."
Montague did not tell his companion how very profound a remark he considered that; he was afraid it would not be delicate to agree with her. He had heard a story of a negro occupant of the "mourners' bench," who was voluble in confession of his sins, but took exception to the fervour with which the congregation said "Amen!"
"The Evanses used to be a lot funnier than they are now," continued Mrs. Winnie, after a while. "When they came here last year, they were really frightful. They had an English chap for social secretary—a younger son of some broken-down old family. My brother knew a man who had been one of their intimates in the West, and he said it was perfectly excruciating—this fellow used to sit at the table and give orders to the whole crowd: 'Your ice-cream fork should be at your right hand, Miss Mary.—One never asks for more soup, Master Robert.—And Miss Anna, always move your soup-spoon from you—that's better!'"
"I fancy I shall feel sorry for them," said Montague.
"Oh, you needn't," said the other, promptly. "They'll get what they want."
"Do you think so?"
"Why, certainly they will. They've got the money; and they've been abroad—they're learning the game. And they'll keep at it until they succeed—what else is there for them to do? And then my husband says that old Evans is making himself a power here in the East; so that pretty soon they won't dare offend him."
"Does that count?" asked the man.
"Well, I guess it counts!" laughed Mrs. Winnie. "It has of late." And she went on to tell him of the Society leader who had dared to offend the daughters of a great magnate, and how the magnate had retaliated by turning the woman's husband out of his high office. That was often the way in the business world; the struggles were supposed to be affairs of men, but oftener than not the moving power was a woman's intrigue. You would see a great upheaval in Wall Street, and it would be two of the big men quarrelling over a mistress; you would see some man rush suddenly into a high office—and that would be because his wife had sold herself to advance him.
Mrs. Winnie took him up town in her auto, and he dressed for dinner; and then came Oliver, and his brother asked, "Are you trying to put the Evanses into Society?"
"Who's been telling you about them?" asked the other.
"Mrs. Winnie," said Montague.
"What did she tell you?"
Montague went over her recital, which his brother apparently found satisfactory. "It's not as serious as that," he said, answering the earlier question. "I help them a little now and then."
"What do you do?"
"Oh, advise them, mostly—tell them where to go and what to wear. When they first came to New York, they were dressed like paraquets, you know. And"—here Oliver broke into a laugh—"I refrain from making jokes about them. And when I hear other people abusing them, I point out that they are sure to land in the end, and will be dangerous enemies. I've got one or two wedges started for them."
"And do they pay you for doing it?"
"You'd call it paying me, I suppose," replied the other. "The old man carries a few shares of stock for me now and then."
"Carries a few shares?" echoed Montague, and Oliver explained the procedure. This was one of the customs which had grown up in a community where people did not have to earn their money. The recipient of the favour put up nothing and took no risks; but the other person was supposed to buy some stock for him, and then, when the stock went up, he would send a cheque for the "profits." Many a man who would have resented a direct offer of money, would assent pleasantly when a powerful friend offered to "carry a hundred shares for him." This was the way one offered a tip in the big world; it was useful in the case of newspaper men, whose good opinion of a stock was desired, or of politicians and legislators, whose votes might help its fortunes. When one expected to get into Society, one must be prepared to strew such tips about him.
"Of course," added Oliver, "what the family would really like me to do is to get the Robbie Wallings to take them up. I suppose I could get round half a million of them if I could manage that."
To all of which Montague replied, "I see."
A great light had dawned upon him. So that was the way it was managed! That was why one paid thirty thousand a year for one's apartments, and thirty thousand more for a girl's clothes! No wonder it was better to spend Christmas week at the Eldridge Devons than to labour at one's law books!
"One more question," Montague went on. "Why are you introducing me to them?"
"Well," his brother answered, "it won't hurt you; you'll find it amusing. You see, they'd heard I had a brother; and they asked me to bring you. I couldn't keep you hidden for ever, could I?"
All this was while they were driving up town. The Evanses' place was on Riverside Drive; and when Montague got out of the cab and saw it looming up in the semi-darkness, he emitted an exclamation of wonder. It was as big as a jail!
"Oh, yes, they've got room enough," said Oliver, with a laugh. "I put this deal through for them—it's the old Lamson palace, you know."
They had the room; and likewise they had all the trappings of snobbery—Montague took that fact in at a glance. There were knee-breeches and scarlet facings and gold braid—marble balconies and fireplaces and fountains—French masters and real Flemish tapestry. The staircase of their palace was a winding one, and there was a white velvet carpet which had been specially woven for it, and had to be changed frequently; at the top of it was a white cashmere rug which had a pedigree of six centuries—and so on.
And then came the family: this tall, raw-boned, gigantic man, with weather-tanned face and straggling grey moustache—this was Jack Evans; and Mrs. Evans, short and pudgy, but with a kindly face, and not too many diamonds; and the Misses Evans,—stately and slender and perfectly arrayed. "Why, they're all right!" was the thought that came to Montague.
They were all right until they opened their mouths. When they spoke, you discovered that Evans was a miner, and that his wife had been cook on a ranch; also that Anne and Mary had harsh voices, and that they never by any chance said or did anything natural.
They were escorted into the stately dining-room—Henri II., with a historic mantel taken from the palace of Fontainebleau, and four great allegorical paintings of Morning, Evening, Noon, and Midnight upon the walls. There were no other guests—the table, set for six, seemed like a toy in the vast apartment. And in a sudden flash—with a start of almost terror—Montague realized what it must mean not to be in Society. To have all this splendour, and nobody to share it! To have Henri II. dining-rooms and Louis XVI. parlours and Louis XIV. libraries—and see them all empty! To have no one to drive with or talk with, no one to visit or play cards with—to go to the theatre and the opera and have no one to speak to! Worse than that, to be stared at and smiled at! To live in this huge palace, and know that all the horde of servants, underneath their cringing deference, were sneering at you! To face that—to live in the presence of it day after day! And then, outside of your home, the ever widening circles of ridicule and contempt—Society, with all its hangers-on and parasites, its imitators and admirers!
And some one had defied all that—some one had taken up the sword and gone forth to beat down that opposition! Montague looked at this little family of four, and wondered which of them was the driving force in this most desperate emprise!
He arrived at it by a process of elimination. It could not be Evans himself. One saw that the old man was quite hopeless socially; nothing could change his big hairy hands or his lean scrawny neck, or his irresistible impulse to slide down in his chair and cross his long legs in front of him. The face and the talk of Jack Evans brought irresistibly to mind the mountain trail and the prospector's pack-mule, the smoke of camp-fires and the odour of bacon and beans. Seventeen long years the man had tramped in deserts and mountain wildernesses, and Nature had graven her impress deep into his body and soul.
He was very shy at this dinner; but Montague came to know him well in the course of time. And after he had come to realize that Montague was not one of the grafters, he opened up his heart. Evans had held on to his mine when he had found it, and he had downed the rivals who had tried to take it away from him, and he had bought the railroads who had tried to crush him—and now he had come to Wall Street to fight the men who had tried to ruin his railroads. But through it all, he had kept the heart of a woman, and the sight of real distress was unbearable to him. He was the sort of man to keep a roll of ten-thousand-dollar bills in his pistol pocket, and to give one away if he thought he could do it without offence. And, on the other hand, men told how once when he had seen a porter insult a woman passenger on his line, he jumped up and pulled the bell-cord, and had the man put out on the roadside at midnight, thirty miles from the nearest town!
No, it was the women folks, he said to Montague, with his grim laugh. It didn't trouble him at all to be called a "noovoo rich"; and when he felt like dancing a shakedown, he could take a run out to God's country. But the women folks had got the bee in their bonnet. The old man added sadly that one of the disadvantages of striking it rich was that it left the women folks with nothing to do.
Nor was it Mrs. Evans, either. "Sarey," as she was called by the head of the house, sat next to Montague at dinner; and he discovered that with the very least encouragement, the good lady was willing to become homelike and comfortable. Montague gave the occasion, because he was a stranger, and volunteered the opinion that New York was a shamelessly extravagant place, and hard to get along in; and Mrs. Evans took up the subject and revealed herself as a good-natured and kindly personage, who had wistful yearnings for mush and molasses, and flap-jacks, and bread fried in bacon-grease, and similar sensible things, while her chef was compelling her to eat paté de foie gras in aspic, and milk-fed guinea-chicks, and biscuits glacées Tortoni. Of course she did not say that at dinner,—she made a game effort to play her part,—with the result of at least one diverting experience for Montague.
Mrs. Evans was telling him what a dreadful place she considered the city for young men; and how she feared to bring her boy here. "The men here have no morals at all," said she, and added earnestly, "I've come to the conclusion that Eastern men are naturally amphibious!"
Then, as Montague knitted his brows and looked perplexed, she added, "Don't you think so?" And he replied, with as little delay as possible, that he had never really thought of it before.
It was not until a couple of hours later that the light dawned upon him, in the course of a conversation with Miss Anne. "We met Lady Stonebridge at luncheon to-day," said that young person. "Do you know her?"
"No," said Montague, who had never heard of her.
"I think those aristocratic English women use the most abominable slang," continued Anne. "Have you noticed it?"
"Yes, I have," he said.
"And so utterly cynical! Do you know, Lady Stonebridge quite shocked mother—she told her she didn't believe in marriage at all, and that she thought all men were naturally polygamous!"
Later on, Montague came to know "Mrs. Sarey"; and one afternoon, sitting in her Petit Trianon drawing-room, he asked her abruptly, "Why in the world do you want to get into Society?" And the poor lady caught her breath, and tried to be indignant; and then, seeing that he was in earnest, and that she was cornered, broke down and confessed. "It isn't me," she said, "it's the gals." (For along with the surrender went a reversion to natural speech.) "It's Mary, and more particularly Anne."
They talked it over confidentially—which was a great relief to Mrs. Sarey's soul, for she was cruelly lonely. So far as she was concerned, it was not because she wanted Society, but because Society didn't want her. She flashed up in sudden anger, and clenched her fists, declaring that Jack Evans was as good a man as walked the streets of New York—and they would acknowledge it before he got through with them, too! After that she intended to settle down at home and be comfortable, and mend her husband's socks.
She went on to tell him what a hard road was the path of glory. There were hundreds of people ready to know them—but oh, such a riffraff! They might fill up their home with the hangers-on and the yellow, but no, they could wait. They had learned a lot since they set out. One very aristocratic lady had invited them to dinner, and their hopes had been high—but alas, while they were sitting by the fireplace, some one admired a thirty-thousand-dollar emerald ring which Mrs. Evans had on her finger, and she had taken it off and passed it about among the company, and somewhere it had vanished completely! And another person had invited Mary to a bridge-party, and though she had played hardly at all, her hostess had quietly informed her that she had lost a thousand dollars. And the great Lady Stonebridge had actually sent for her and told her that she could introduce her in some of the very best circles, if only she was willing to lose always! Mrs. Evans had possessed a very homely Irish name before she was married; and Lady Stonebridge had got five thousand dollars from her to use some great influence she possessed in the Royal College of Heralds, and prove that she was descended directly from the noble old family of Magennis, who had been the lords of Iveagh, way back in the fourteenth century. And now Oliver had told them that this imposing charter would not help them in the least!
In the process of elimination, there were the Misses Evans left. Montague's friends made many jests when they heard that he had met them—asking him if he meant to settle down. Major Venable went so far as to assure him that there was not the least doubt that either of the girls would take him in a second. Montague laughed, and answered that Mary was not so bad—she had a sweet face and was good-natured; but also, she was two years younger than Anne; and he could not get over the thought that two more years might make another Anne of her.
For it was Anne who was the driving force of the family! Anne who had planned the great campaign, and selected the Lamson palace, and pried the family loose from the primeval rocks of Nevada! She was cold as an iceberg, tireless, pitiless to others as to herself; for seventeen years her father had wandered and dug among the mountains; and for seventeen years, if need be, she would dig beneath the walls of the fortress of Society!
After Montague had had his heart to heart talk with the mother, Miss Anne Evans became very haughty toward him; whereby he knew that the old lady had told about it, and that the daughter resented his presumption. But to Oliver she laid bare her soul, and Oliver would come and tell his brother about it: how she plotted and planned and studied, and brought new schemes to him every week. She had some of the real people bought over to secret sympathy with her; if there was some especial favour which she asked for, she would set to work with the good-natured old man, and the person would have some important money service done him. She had the people of Society all marked—she was learning all their weaknesses, and the underground passages of their lives, and working patiently to find the key to her problem—some one family which was socially impregnable, but whose finances were in such a shape that they would receive the proposition to take up the Evanses, and definitely put them in. Montague used to look back upon all this with wonder and amusement—from those days in the not far distant future, when the papers had cable descriptions of the gowns of the Duchess of Arden, nee Evans, who was the bright particular star of the London social season!