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The Cynical Miss Catherwaight by Richard Harding Davis

 

Miss Catherwaight's collection of orders and decorations and medals was her chief offence in the eyes of those of her dear friends who thought her clever but cynical.

All of them were willing to admit that she was clever, but some of them said she was clever only to be unkind.

Young Van Bibber had said that if Miss Catherwaight did not like dances and days and teas, she had only to stop going to them instead of making unpleasant remarks about those who did. So many people repeated this that young Van Bibber believed finally that he had said something good, and was somewhat pleased in consequence, as he was not much given to that sort of thing.

Mrs. Catherwaight, while she was alive, lived solely for society, and, so some people said, not only lived but died for it. She certainly did go about a great deal, and she used to carry her husband away from his library every night of every season and left him standing in the doorways of drawing-rooms, outwardly courteous and distinguished looking, but inwardly somnolent and unhappy. She was a born and trained social leader, and her daughter's coming out was to have been the greatest effort of her life. She regarded it as an event in the dear child's lifetime second only in importance to her birth; equally important with her probable marriage and of much more poignant interest than her possible death. But the great effort proved too much for the mother, and she died, fondly remembered by her peers and tenderly referred to by a great many people who could not even show a card for her Thursdays. Her husband and her daughter were not going out, of necessity, for more than a year after her death, and then felt no inclination to begin over again, but lived very much together and showed themselves only occasionally.

They entertained, though, a great deal, in the way of dinners, and an invitation to one of these dinners soon became a diploma for intellectual as well as social qualifications of a very high order.

One was always sure of meeting some one of consideration there, which was pleasant in itself, and also rendered it easy to let one's friends know where one had been dining. It sounded so flat to boast abruptly, "I dined at the Catherwaights' last night"; while it seemed only natural to remark, "That reminds me of a story that novelist, what's his name, told at Mr. Catherwaight's," or "That English chap, who's been in Africa, was at the Catherwaights' the other night, and told me—"

After one of these dinners people always asked to be allowed to look over Miss Catherwaight's collection, of which almost everybody had heard. It consisted of over a hundred medals and decorations which Miss Catherwaight had purchased while on the long tours she made with her father in all parts of the world. Each of them had been given as a reward for some public service, as a recognition of some virtue of the highest order—for personal bravery, for statesmanship, for great genius in the arts; and each had been pawned by the recipient or sold outright. Miss Catherwaight referred to them as her collection of dishonored honors, and called them variously her Orders of the Knights of the Almighty Dollar, pledges to patriotism and the pawnshops, and honors at second-hand.

It was her particular fad to get as many of these together as she could and to know the story of each. The less creditable the story, the more highly she valued the medal. People might think it was not a pretty hobby for a young girl, but they could not help smiling at the stories and at the scorn with which she told them.

"These," she would say, "are crosses of the Legion of Honor; they are of the lowest degree, that of chevalier. I keep them in this cigar box to show how cheaply I got them and how cheaply I hold them. I think you can get them here in New York for ten dollars; they cost more than that—about a hundred francs—in Paris. At second-hand, of course. The French government can imprison you, you know, for ten years, if you wear one without the right to do so, but they have no punishment for those who choose to part with them for a mess of pottage.

"All these," she would run on, "are English war medals. See, on this one is 'Alma,' 'Balaclava,' and 'Sebastopol.' He was quite a veteran, was he not? Well, he sold this to a dealer on Wardour Street, London, for five and six. You can get any number of them on the Bowery for their weight in silver. I tried very hard to get a Victoria Cross when I was in England, and I only succeeded in getting this one after a great deal of trouble. They value the cross so highly, you know, that it is the only other decoration in the case which holds the Order of the Garter in the Jewel Room at the Tower. It is made of copper, so that its intrinsic value won't have any weight with the man who gets it, but I bought this nevertheless for five pounds. The soldier to whom it belonged had loaded and fired a cannon all alone when the rest of the men about the battery had run away. He was captured by the enemy, but retaken immediately afterward by re-enforcements from his own side, and the general in command recommended him to the Queen for decoration. He sold his cross to the proprietor of a curiosity shop and drank himself to death. I felt rather meanly about keeping it and hunted up his widow to return it to her, but she said I could have it for a consideration.

"This gold medal was given, as you see, to 'Hiram J. Stillman, of the sloop Annie Barker, for saving the crew of the steamship Olivia, June 18, 1888,' by the President of the United States and both houses of Congress. I found it on Baxter Street in a pawnshop. The gallant Hiram J. had pawned it for sixteen dollars and never came back to claim it."

"But, Miss Catherwaight," some optimist would object, "these men undoubtedly did do something brave and noble once. You can't get back of that; and they didn't do it for a medal, either, but because it was their duty. And so the medal meant nothing to them: their conscience told them they had done the right thing; they didn't need a stamped coin to remind them of it, or of their wounds, either, perhaps."

"Quite right; that's quite true," Miss Catherwaight would say. "But how about this? Look at this gold medal with the diamonds: 'Presented to Colonel James F. Placer by the men of his regiment, in camp before Richmond.' Every soldier in the regiment gave something toward that, and yet the brave gentleman put it up at a game of poker one night, and the officer who won it sold it to the man who gave it to me. Can you defend that?"

Miss Catherwaight was well known to the proprietors of the pawnshops and loan offices on the Bowery and Park Row. They learned to look for her once a month, and saved what medals they received for her and tried to learn their stories from the people who pawned them, or else invented some story which they hoped would answer just as well.

Though her brougham produced a sensation in the unfashionable streets into which she directed it, she was never annoyed. Her maid went with her into the shops, and one of the grooms always stood at the door within call, to the intense delight of the neighborhood. And one day she found what, from her point of view, was a perfect gem. It was a poor, cheap-looking, tarnished silver medal, a half-dollar once, undoubtedly, beaten out roughly into the shape of a heart and engraved in script by the jeweller of some country town. On one side were two clasped hands with a wreath around them, and on the reverse was this inscription: "From Henry Burgoyne to his beloved friend Lewis L. Lockwood"; and below, "Through prosperity and adversity." That was all. And here it was among razors and pistols and family Bibles in a pawnbroker's window. What a story there was in that! These two boy friends, and their boyish friendship that was to withstand adversity and prosperity, and all that remained of it was this inscription to its memory like the wording on a tomb!

"He couldn't have got so much on it any way," said the pawnbroker, entering into her humor. "I didn't lend him more'n a quarter of a dollar at the most."

Miss Catherwaight stood wondering if the Lewis L. Lockwood could be Lewis Lockwood, the lawyer one read so much about. Then she remembered his middle name was Lyman, and said quickly, "I'll take it, please."

She stepped into the carriage, and told the man to go find a directory and look for Lewis Lyman Lockwood. The groom returned in a few minutes and said there was such a name down in the book as a lawyer, and that his office was such a number on Broadway; it must be near Liberty. "Go there," said Miss Catherwaight.

Her determination was made so quickly that they had stopped in front of a huge pile of offices, sandwiched in, one above the other, until they towered mountains high, before she had quite settled in her mind what she wanted to know, or had appreciated how strange her errand might appear. Mr. Lockwood was out, one of the young men in the outer office said, but the junior partner, Mr. Latimer, was in and would see her. She had only time to remember that the junior partner was a dancing acquaintance of hers, before young Mr. Latimer stood before her smiling, and with her card in his hand.

"Mr. Lockwood is out just at present, Miss Catherwaight," he said, "but he will be back in a moment. Won't you come into the other room and wait? I'm sure he won't be away over five minutes. Or is it something I could do?"

She saw that he was surprised to see her, and a little ill at ease as to just how to take her visit. He tried to make it appear that he considered it the most natural thing in the world, but he overdid it, and she saw that her presence was something quite out of the common. This did not tend to set her any more at her ease. She already regretted the step she had taken. What if it should prove to be the same Lockwood, she thought, and what would they think of her?

"Perhaps you will do better than Mr. Lockwood," she said, as she followed him into the inner office. "I fear I have come upon a very foolish errand, and one that has nothing at all to do with the law."

"Not a breach of promise suit, then?" said young Latimer, with a smile. "Perhaps it is only an innocent subscription to a most worthy charity. I was afraid at first," he went on lightly, "that it was legal redress you wanted, and I was hoping that the way I led the Courdert's cotillion had made you think I could conduct you through the mazes of the law as well."

"No," returned Miss Catherwaight, with a nervous laugh; "it has to do with my unfortunate collection. This is what brought me here," she said, holding out the silver medal. "I came across it just now in the Bowery. The name was the same, and I thought it just possible Mr. Lockwood would like to have it; or, to tell you the truth, that he might tell me what had become of the Henry Burgoyne who gave it to him."

Young Latimer had the medal in his hand before she had finished speaking, and was examining it carefully. He looked up with just a touch of color in his cheeks and straightened himself visibly.

"Please don't be offended," said the fair collector. "I know what you think. You've heard of my stupid collection, and I know you think I meant to add this to it. But, indeed, now that I have had time to think—you see I came here immediately from the pawnshop, and I was so interested, like all collectors, you know, that I didn't stop to consider. That's the worst of a hobby; it carries one rough-shod over other people's feelings, and runs away with one. I beg of you, if you do know anything about the coin, just to keep it and don't tell me, and I assure you what little I know I will keep quite to myself."

Young Latimer bowed, and stood looking at her curiously, with the medal in his hand.

"I hardly know what to say," he began slowly. "It really has a story. You say you found this on the Bowery, in a pawnshop. Indeed! Well, of course, you know Mr. Lockwood could not have left it there."

Miss Catherwaight shook her head vehemently and smiled in deprecation.

"This medal was in his safe when he lived on Thirty-fifth Street at the time he was robbed, and the burglars took this with the rest of the silver and pawned it, I suppose. Mr. Lockwood would have given more for it than any one else could have afforded to pay." He paused a moment, and then continued more rapidly: "Henry Burgoyne is Judge Burgoyne. Ah! you didn't guess that? Yes, Mr. Lockwood and he were friends when they were boys. They went to school in Westchester County. They were Damon and Pythias and that sort of thing. They roomed together at the State college and started to practise law in Tuckahoe as a firm, but they made nothing of it, and came on to New York and began reading law again with Fuller Mowbray. It was while they were at school that they had these medals made. There was a mate to this, you know; Judge Burgoyne had it. Well, they continued to live and work together. They were both orphans and dependent on themselves. I suppose that was one of the strongest bonds between them; and they knew no one in New York, and always spent their spare time together. They were pretty poor, I fancy, from all Mr. Lockwood has told me, but they were very ambitious. They were—I'm telling you this, you understand, because it concerns you somewhat: well, more or less. They were great sportsmen, and whenever they could get away from the law office they would go off shooting. I think they were fonder of each other than brothers even. I've heard Mr. Lockwood tell of the days they lay in the rushes along the Chesapeake Bay waiting for duck. He has said often that they were the happiest hours of his life. That was their greatest pleasure, going off together after duck or snipe along the Maryland waters. Well, they grew rich and began to know people; and then they met a girl. It seems they both thought a great deal of her, as half the New York men did, I am told; and she was the reigning belle and toast, and had other admirers, and neither met with that favor she showed—well, the man she married, for instance. But for a while each thought, for some reason or other, that he was especially favored. I don't know anything about it. Mr. Lockwood never spoke of it to me. But they both fell very deeply in love with her, and each thought the other disloyal, and so they quarrelled; and—and then, though the woman married, the two men kept apart. It was the one great passion of their lives, and both were proud, and each thought the other in the wrong, and so they have kept apart ever since. And—well, I believe that is all."

Miss Catherwaight had listened in silence and with one little gloved hand tightly clasping the other.

"Indeed, Mr. Latimer, indeed," she began, tremulously, "I am terribly ashamed of myself. I seemed to have rushed in where angels fear to tread. I wouldn't meet Mr. Lockwood now for worlds. Of course I might have known there was a woman in the case, it adds so much to the story. But I suppose I must give up my medal. I never could tell that story, could I?"

"No," said young Latimer, dryly; "I wouldn't if I were you."

Something in his tone, and something in the fact that he seemed to avoid her eyes, made her drop the lighter vein in which she had been speaking, and rise to go. There was much that he had not told her, she suspected, and when she bade him good-by it was with a reserve which she had not shown at any other time during their interview.

"I wonder who that woman was?" she murmured, as young Latimer turned from the brougham door and said "Home," to the groom. She thought about it a great deal that afternoon; at times she repented that she had given up the medal, and at times she blushed that she should have been carried in her zeal into such an unwarranted intimacy with another's story.

She determined finally to ask her father about it. He would be sure to know, she thought, as he and Mr. Lockwood were contemporaries. Then she decided finally not to say anything about it at all, for Mr. Catherwaight did not approve of the collection of dishonored honors as it was, and she had no desire to prejudice him still further by a recital of her afternoon's adventure, of which she had no doubt but he would also disapprove. So she was more than usually silent during the dinner, which was a tete-a-tete family dinner that night, and she allowed her father to doze after it in the library in his great chair without disturbing him with either questions or confessions.

[Illustration with caption: "What can Mr. Lockwood be calling upon me about?"]

They had been sitting there some time, he with his hands folded on the evening paper and with his eyes closed, when the servant brought in a card and offered it to Mr. Catherwaight. Mr. Catherwaight fumbled over his glasses, and read the name on the card aloud: "'Mr. Lewis L. Lockwood.' Dear me!" he said; "what can Mr. Lockwood be calling upon me about?"

Miss Catherwaight sat upright, and reached out for the card with a nervous, gasping little laugh.

"Oh, I think it must be for me," she said; "I'm quite sure it is intended for me. I was at his office to-day, you see, to return him some keepsake of his that I found in an old curiosity shop. Something with his name on it that had been stolen from him and pawned. It was just a trifle. You needn't go down, dear; I'll see him. It was I he asked for, I'm sure; was it not, Morris?"

Morris was not quite sure; being such an old gentleman, he thought it must be for Mr. Catherwaight he'd come.

Mr. Catherwaight was not greatly interested. He did not like to disturb his after-dinner nap, and he settled back in his chair again and refolded his hands.

"I hardly thought he could have come to see me," he murmured, drowsily; "though I used to see enough and more than enough of Lewis Lockwood once, my dear," he added with a smile, as he opened his eyes and nodded before he shut them again. "That was before your mother and I were engaged, and people did say that young Lockwood's chances at that time were as good as mine. But they weren't, it seems. He was very attentive, though; very attentive."

Miss Catherwaight stood startled and motionless at the door from which she had turned.

"Attentive—to whom?" she asked quickly, and in a very low voice. "To my mother?"

Mr. Catherwaight did not deign to open his eyes this time, but moved his head uneasily as if he wished to be let alone.

"To your mother, of course, my child," he answered; "of whom else was I speaking?"

Miss Catherwaight went down the stairs to the drawing-room slowly, and paused half-way to allow this new suggestion to settle in her mind. There was something distasteful to her, something that seemed not altogether unblamable, in a woman's having two men quarrel about her, neither of whom was the woman's husband. And yet this girl of whom Latimer had spoken must be her mother, and she, of course, could do no wrong. It was very disquieting, and she went on down the rest of the way with one hand resting heavily on the railing and with the other pressed against her cheeks. She was greatly troubled. It now seemed to her very sad indeed that these two one-time friends should live in the same city and meet, as they must meet, and not recognize each other. She argued that her mother must have been very young when it happened, or she would have brought two such men together again. Her mother could not have known, she told herself; she was not to blame. For she felt sure that had she herself known of such an accident she would have done something, said something, to make it right. And she was not half the woman her mother had been, she was sure of that.

There was something very likable in the old gentleman who came forward to greet her as she entered the drawing-room; something courtly and of the old school, of which she was so tired of hearing, but of which she wished she could have seen more in the men she met. Young Mr. Latimer had accompanied his guardian, exactly why she did not see, but she recognized his presence slightly. He seemed quite content to remain in the background. Mr. Lockwood, as she had expected, explained that he had called to thank her for the return of the medal. He had it in his hand as he spoke, and touched it gently with the tips of his fingers as though caressing it.

"I knew your father very well," said the lawyer, "and I at one time had the honor of being one of your mother's younger friends. That was before she was married, many years ago." He stopped and regarded the girl gravely and with a touch of tenderness. "You will pardon an old man, old enough to be your father, if he says," he went on, "that you are greatly like your mother, my dear young lady—greatly like. Your mother was very kind to me, and I fear I abused her kindness; abused it by misunderstanding it. There was a great deal of misunderstanding; and I was proud, and my friend was proud, and so the misunderstanding continued, until now it has become irretrievable."

He had forgotten her presence apparently, and was speaking more to himself than to her as he stood looking down at the medal in his hand.

"You were very thoughtful to give me this," he continued; "it was very good of you. I don't know why I should keep it though, now, although I was distressed enough when I lost it. But now it is only a reminder of a time that is past and put away, but which was very, very dear to me. Perhaps I should tell you that I had a misunderstanding with the friend who gave it to me, and since then we have never met; have ceased to know each other. But I have always followed his life as a judge and as a lawyer, and respected him for his own sake as a man. I cannot tell—I do not know how he feels toward me."

The old lawyer turned the medal over in his hand and stood looking down at it wistfully.

The cynical Miss Catherwaight could not stand it any longer.

"Mr. Lockwood," she said, impulsively, "Mr. Latimer has told me why you and your friend separated, and I cannot bear to think that it was she—my mother—should have been the cause. She could not have understood; she must have been innocent of any knowledge of the trouble she had brought to men who were such good friends of hers and to each other. It seems to me as though my finding that coin is more than a coincidence. I somehow think that the daughter is to help undo the harm that her mother has caused—unwittingly caused. Keep the medal and don't give it back to me, for I am sure your friend has kept his, and I am sure he is still your friend at heart. Don't think I am speaking hastily or that I am thoughtless in what I am saying, but it seems to me as if friends—good, true friends—were so few that one cannot let them go without a word to bring them back. But though I am only a girl, and a very light and unfeeling girl, some people think, I feel this very much, and I do wish I could bring your old friend back to you again as I brought back his pledge."

"It has been many years since Henry Burgoyne and I have met," said the old man, slowly, "and it would be quite absurd to think that he still holds any trace of that foolish, boyish feeling of loyalty that we once had for each other. Yet I will keep this, if you will let me, and I thank you, my dear young lady, for what you have said. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are as good and as kind as your mother was, and—I can say nothing, believe me, in higher praise."

He rose slowly and made a movement as if to leave the room, and then, as if the excitement of this sudden return into the past could not be shaken off so readily, he started forward with a move of sudden determination.

"I think," he said, "I will go to Henry Burgoyne's house at once, to- night. I will act on what you have suggested. I will see if this has or has not been one long, unprofitable mistake. If my visit should be fruitless, I will send you this coin to add to your collection of dishonored honors, but if it should result as I hope it may, it will be your doing, Miss Catherwaight, and two old men will have much to thank you for. Good-night," he said as he bowed above her hand, "and— God bless you!"

Miss Catherwaight flushed slightly at what he had said, and sat looking down at the floor for a moment after the door had closed behind him.

Young Mr. Latimer moved uneasily in his chair. The routine of the office had been strangely disturbed that day, and he now failed to recognize in the girl before him with reddened cheeks and trembling eyelashes the cold, self-possessed young woman of society whom he had formerly known.

"You have done very well, if you will let me say so," he began, gently. "I hope you are right in what you said, and that Mr. Lockwood will not meet with a rebuff or an ungracious answer. Why," he went on quickly, "I have seen him take out his gun now every spring and every fall for the last ten years and clean and polish it and tell what great shots he and Henry, as he calls him, used to be. And then he would say he would take a holiday and get off for a little shooting. But he never went. He would put the gun back into its case again and mope in his library for days afterward. You see, he never married, and though he adopted me, in a manner, and is fond of me in a certain way, no one ever took the place in his heart his old friend had held."

"You will let me know, will you not, at once,—to-night, even,— whether he succeeds or not?" said the cynical Miss Catherwaight. "You can understand why I am so deeply interested. I see now why you said I would not tell the story of that medal. But, after all, it may be the prettiest story, the only pretty story I have to tell."

Mr. Lockwood had not returned, the man said, when young Latimer reached the home the lawyer had made for them both. He did not know what to argue from this, but determined to sit up and wait, and so sat smoking before the fire and listening with his sense of hearing on a strain for the first movement at the door.

He had not long to wait. The front door shut with a clash, and he heard Mr. Lockwood crossing the hall quickly to the library, in which he waited. Then the inner door was swung back, and Mr. Lockwood came in with his head high and his eyes smiling brightly.

There was something in his step that had not been there before, something light and vigorous, and he looked ten years younger. He crossed the room to his writing-table without speaking and began tossing the papers about on his desk. Then he closed the rolling-top lid with a snap and looked up smiling.

"I shall have to ask you to look after things at the office for a little while," he said. "Judge Burgoyne and I are going to Maryland for a few weeks' shooting."

 
 
 

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