Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Sapphira by Gouverneur Morris

 

Mr. Hemingway had transacted a great deal of business with Miss Tennant's father; otherwise he must have shunned the proposition upon which she came to him. Indeed, wrinkling his bushy brows, he as much as told her that he was a banker and not a pawnbroker.

Outside, the main street of Aiken, broad enough to have made five New England streets, lay red and glaring in the sun. The least restless shifting of feet by horses and mules tied to hitching-posts raised clouds of dust, immense reddish ghosts that could not be laid. In the bank itself, ordinarily a cool retreat, smelling faintly of tobacco juice deposited by some of its clients, the mercury was swelling toward ninety. It was April Fools' day, and unless Miss Tennant was cool, nobody was. She looked cool. If the temperature had been 40° below zero she would have looked warm; but she would have been dressed differently.

It was her great gift always to look the weather and the occasion; no matter how or what she really felt. On the present occasion she wore a very simple, inexpensive muslin, flowered with faint mauve lilacs, and a wide, floppy straw-hat trimmed with the same. She had driven into town, half a mile or more, without getting a speck of dust upon herself. Even the corners of her eyes were like those of a newly laundered baby. She smelled of tooth-powder (precipitated chalk and orris root), as was her custom, and she wore no ring or ornament of any value. Indeed, such jewels as she possessed, a graceful diamond necklace, a pearl collar, a pearl pendant, and two cabochon sapphire rings, lay on the table between her and Mr. Hemingway.

“I'm not asking the bank to do this for me,” she said, and she looked extra lovely (on purpose, of course). “I'm asking you——”

Mr. Hemingway poked the cluster of jewels very gingerly with his forefinger as if they were a lizard.

“And, of course,” she said, “they are worth twice the money; maybe three or four times.”

“Perhaps,” said Mr. Hemingway, “you will take offence if I suggest that your father——”

The muslin over her shoulders tightened the least in the world. She had shrugged them.

“Of course,” she said, “papa would do it; but he would insist on reasons. My reasons involve another, Mr. Hemingway, and so it would not be honorable for me to give them.”

“And yet,” said the banker, twinkling, “your reasons would tempt me to accommodate you with the loan you ask for far more than your collateral.”

“Oh,” she said, “you are a business man. I could give you reasons, and be sure they would go no further—even if you thought them funny. But if papa heard them, and thought them funny, as he would, he would play the sieve. I don't want this money for myself, Mr. Hemingway.”

“They never do,” said he.

She laughed.

“I wish to lend it in turn,” she said, “to a person who has been reckless, and who is in trouble, but in whom I believe.... But perhaps,” she went on, “the person, who is very proud, will take offence at my offer of help.... In which case, Mr. Hemingway, I should return you the money to-morrow.”

“This person—” he began, twinkling.

“Oh,” she said, “I couldn't bear to be teased. The person is a young gentleman. Any interest that I take in him is a business interest, pure and simple. I believe that, tided over his present difficulties, he will steady down and become a credit to his sex. Can I say more than that?” She smiled drolly.

“Men who are a credit to their sex,” said Mr. Hemingway, “are not rare, but young gentlemen——”

“This one,” said she, “has in him the makings of a man. Just now he is discouraged.”

“Is he taking anything for it?” asked Mr. Hemingway with some sarcasm.

“Buckets,” said Miss Tennant simply.

“Was it cards?” he asked.

“Cards, and betting—and the hopeless optimism of youth,” said she.

“And you wish to lend him five thousand dollars, and your interest in him is platonic?”

“Nothing so ardent,” said she demurely. “I wish him to pay his debts, to give me his word that he will neither drink nor gamble until he has paid back the debt to me, and I shall suggest that he go out to one of those big Western States and become a man.”

“If anybody,” said Mr. Hemingway with gallantry, “could lead a young gentleman to so sweeping a reform, it would be yourself.”

“There is no sequence of generations,” said Miss Tennant, “long enough to eradicate a drop of Irish blood.”

Mr. Hemingway swept the jewels together and wrapped them in the tissue-paper in which she had brought them.

“Are you going to put them in your safe—or return them to me?” she asked plaintively.

Mr. Hemingway affected gruffness.

“I am thanking God fervently, ma'am,” said he, “that you didn't ask me for more. You'll have to give me your note. By the way, are you of age?”

Her charming eyes narrowed, and she laughed at him.

“People,” she said, “are already beginning to say, 'she will hardly marry now.' But it's how old we feel, Mr. Hemingway, isn't it?”

“I feel about seven,” said he, “and foolish at that.”

“And I,” said she, “will be twenty-five for the second time on my next birthday.”

“And, by the way,” she said, when the details of the loan had been arranged and she had stuffed the five thousand dollars into the palm of a wash glove, “nobody must know about this, because I shall have to say that—my gewgaws have been stolen.”

“But that will give Aiken a black eye,” said he.

“I'm afraid it can't be helped, Mr. Hemingway. Papa will ask point-blank why I never wear the pearls he gave me, and I shall have to anticipate.”

“How?” he asked.

“Oh,” she said demurely, “to-night or to-morrow night I shall rouse the household with screams, and claim that I woke and saw a man bending over my dressing-table—a man with a beautiful white mustache and imperial.”

Mr. Hemingway's right hand flew to his mouth as if to hide these well-ordered appendages, and he laughed.

“Is the truth nothing to you?” he said.

“In a business matter pure and simple,” she said, after a moment's reflection, “it is nothing—absolutely nothing.”

“Not being found out by one's parents is hardly a business matter,” said Mr. Hemingway.

“Oh,” said she with a shiver, “as a little girl I went into the hands of a receiver at least once a month——”

“A hand of iron in a velvet glove,” murmured Mr. Hemingway.

“Oh, no,” she said, “a leather slipper in a nervous hand.... But how can I thank you?”

She rose, still demure and cool, but with a strong sparkling in her eyes as from a difficult matter successfully adjusted.

“You could make the burglar a clean-shaven man,” Mr. Hemingway suggested.

“I will,” she said. “I will make him look like anybody you say.”

“God forbid,” said he. “I have no enemies. But, seriously, Miss Tennant, if you possibly can, will you do without a burglary, for the good name of Aiken?”

“I will do what I can,” she said, “but I can't make promises.”

When she had gone, one of the directors pushed open the door of Mr. Hemingway's office and tiptoed in.

“Well,” said he, “for an old graybeard! You've been flirting fifty minutes, you sinner.”

“I haven't,” said Mr. Hemingway, twisting his mustache and looking roguish. “I've been discussing a little matter of business with Miss Tennant.”

What business?”

“Well, it wasn't any of yours, Frank, at the time, and I'm dinned if I think it is now. But if you must know, she came in to complain of the milk that your dairy has been supplying lately. She said it was the kind of thing you'd expect in the North, but for a Southern gentleman to put water in anything——”

“You go to Augusta,” said the director (it is several degrees hotter than Aiken). “Everybody knows that spoons stand up in the milk from my dairy, and as for the cream——”

In the fall from grace of David Larkin there was involved no great show of natural depravity. The difference between a young man who goes right and a young man who goes wrong may be no more than the half of one per cent. And I do not know why we show the vicious such contempt and the virtuous such admiration. Larkin's was the case of a young man who tried to do what he was not old enough, strong enough, or wise enough to “get away with,” as the saying is. Aiken did not corrupt him; he was corrupt when he came, with a bank account of thirty-five hundred dollars snatched from the lap of Dame Fortune, at a moment when she was minding some other small boy. Horses running up to their form, spectacular bridge hands (not well played), and bets upon every subject that can be thought of had all contributed. Then Larkin caught a cold in his nose, so that it ran all day and all night; and because the Browns had invited him to Aiken for a fortnight whenever he cared to come, he seized upon the excuse of his cold and boarded the first train. He was no sooner in Aiken than Dame Fortune ceased minding the other small boy, and turned her petulant eyes upon Larkin. Forthwith he began to lose.

Let no man who does not personally know what a run of bad luck is judge another. What color is a lemon? Why, it is lemon-colored, to be sure. And behold, fortune produces you a lemon black as the ace of spades. When fortune goes against you, you cannot be right. The favorite falls down; the great jockey uses bad judgment for the first time in his life; the foot-ball team that ought to win is overtrained; the yacht carries away her bowsprit; your four kings are brought face to face, after much “hiking,” with four aces; the cigarette that you try to flick into the fireplace hits the slender andiron and bounces out upon the rug; the liquor that you carried so amiably and sensibly in New York mixes with the exciting air of the place where the young lady you are attentive to lives, and you make four asses of yourself and seven fools, and wake up with your first torturing headache and your first humiliating apology. Americans (with the unfortunate exception of us who make a business of it) are the greatest phrase-makers the world has ever known. Larkin's judgment was good; he was a modest young fellow of very decent instincts, he was neither a born gambler nor a born drinker; but, in the American phrase, “he was in wrong.”

Bad luck is not a good excuse for a failure in character; but God knows how wickedly provocative thereof it can be. The elders of the Aiken Club did not notice that Larkin was slipping from grace, because his slipping was gradual; but they noticed all of a sudden, with pity, chagrin (for they liked him), and kindly contempt, that he had fallen. Forthwith a wave of reform swept over the Aiken Club, or it amounted to that. Rich men who did not care a hang about what they won or lost refused to play for high stakes; Larkin's invitations to cocktails were very largely refused; no bets were made in his presence (and I must say that this was a great cause of languishment in certain men's conversation), and the young man was mildly and properly snubbed. This locking of the stable door, however, had the misfortune to happen just after the horse had bolted. Larkin had run through the most of his money; he did not know how he was to pay his bed and board at Willcox's, where he was now stopping; his family were in no position to help him; he knew that he was beginning to be looked on with contempt; he thought that he was seriously in love with Miss Tennant. He could not see any way out of anything; knew that a disgraceful crash was imminent, and for all these troubles he took the wrong medicine. Not the least foolish part of this was that it was medicine for which he would be unable to pay when the club bill fell due. From after breakfast until late at night he kept himself, not drunk, but stimulated.... And then one day the president of the club spoke to him very kindly—and the next day wouldn't speak to him at all.

The proper course would have been for Larkin to open his heart to any of a dozen men. Any one of them would have straightened him out mentally and financially in one moment, and forgotten about it the next. But Larkin was too young, too foolish, and too full of false pride to make confessions to any one who could help him; and he was quite ignorant of the genuine kindness and wisdom that lurks in the average rich man, if once you can get his ear.

But one night, being sure they could not be construed into an appeal for help, or anything but a sympathetic scolding, which he thought would be enjoyable (and because of a full moon, perhaps, and a whole chorus of mocking-birds pouring out their souls in song, and because of an arbor covered with the yellow jasmine that smells to heaven, and a little sweeter), he made his sorry confessions into the lovely pink hollow of Miss Tennant's ear.

Instead of a scolding he received sympathy and understanding; and he misconstrued the fact that she caught his hand in hers and squeezed it very hard; and did not know that he had misconstrued that fact until he found that it was her cheek that he had kissed instead of her hastily averted lips.

This rebuff did not prevent him from crowning the story of his young life with further confessions. And it is on record that when Larkin came into the brightly lighted club there was dust upon the knees of his trousers.

“I am fond of you, David,” she had said, “and in spite of all the mess you have made of things, I believe in you; but even if I were fonder than fondest of you, I should despise myself if I listened to you—now.”

But she did not sleep all night for thinking how she could be of real, material help to the young man, and cause him to turn into the straight, narrow path that always leads to success and sometimes to achievement.

Every spring the Mannings, who have nothing against them except that they live on the wrong side of town, give a wistaria party. The Mannings live for the blossoming of the wistaria which covers their charming porticoed house from top to toe and fills their grounds. Ever since they can remember they have specialized in wistaria; and they are not young, and wistaria grows fast. The fine old trees that stand in the Mannings' grounds are merely lofty trellises for the vines, white and mauve, to sport upon. The Mannings' garden cost less money, perhaps, than any notable garden in Aiken; and when in full bloom it is, perhaps, the most beautiful garden in the world. To appreciate wistaria, one vine with a spread of fifty feet bearing ten thousand racemes of blossoms a foot long is not enough; you must enter and disappear into a region of such vines, and then loaf and stroll with an untroubled nose and your heart's desire.

Even Larkin, when he paused under the towering entrance vines, a mauve and a white, forgot his troubles. He filled his lungs with the delicious fragrance, and years after the consciousness of it would come upon him suddenly. And then coming upon tea-tables standing in the open and covered with good things, and finding, among the white flannel and muslin guests, Miss Tennant, very obviously on the lookout for him, his cup was full. When they had drunk very deep of orangeade, and eaten jam sandwiches followed by chicken sandwiches and walnut cake, they went strolling (Miss Tennant still looking completely ethereal—a creature that lived on the odor of flowers and kind thoughts rather than the more material edibles mentioned above), and then Larkin felt that his cup was overflowing.

Either because the day was hot or because of the sandwiches, they found exclusive shade and sat in it, upon a white seat that looked like marble—at a distance. Larkin once more filled his lungs with the breath of wistaria and was for letting it out in further confessions of what he felt to be his heart's ultimate depths. But Miss Tennant was too quick for him. She drew five one-thousand-dollar bills from the palm of her glove and put them in his hand.

“There,” she said.

Larkin looked at the money and fell into a dark mood.

“What is this for?” he said presently.

“This is a loan,” said she, “from me to you; to be a tiding over of present difficulties, a reminder of much that has been pleasant in the past, and an earnest of future well-doing. Good luck to you, David.”

“I wish I could take it,” said the young man with a swift, slanting smile. “And at least I can crawl upon my stomach at your feet, and pull my forelock and heap dust upon my head.... God bless you!” And he returned the bills to her.

She smiled cheerfully but a little disdainfully.

“Very well, then,” said she. “I tear them up.”

“Oh!” cried Larkin. “Don't make a mess of a beautiful incident.”

“Then take them.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, you know as well as I do that a man can't borrow from a girl.”

“A man?” asked Miss Tennant simply, as if she doubted having heard correctly. Then, as he nodded, she turned a pair of eyes upon him that were at once kind, pained, and deeply thoughtful. And she began to speak in a quiet, repressed way upon the theme that he had suggested.

“A man,” she said; “what is a man? I can answer better by telling you what a man is not. A man is not a creature who loafs when he ought to be at work, who loses money that he hasn't got, who drinks liquor that he cannot carry, and who upon such a noble groundwork feels justified in making love to a decent, self-respecting girl. That is not a man, David. A man would have no need of any help from me.... But you—you are a child that has escaped from its nurse, a bird that has fallen out of its nest before it has learned to fly, and you have done nothing but foolish things.... But somehow I have learned to suspect you of a better self, where, half-strangled with foolishnesses and extravagance, there lurks a certain contrition and a certain sweetness.... God knows I should like to see you a man....”

Larkin jumped to his feet, and all of him that showed was crimson, and he could have cried. But he felt no anger, and he kept his eyes upon hers.

“Thank you,” he said; “may I have them?”

He stuffed the bills into his pocket.

“I have no security,” he said. “But I will give you my word of honor neither to drink, neither to gamble, neither to loaf, nor to make love until I have paid you back interest and principal.”

“Where will you go? What will you do, David?”

“West—God knows. I will do something.... You see that I can't say any thanks, don't you? That I am almost choking, and that at any moment I might burst into sobs?”

They were silent, and she looked into his face unconsciously while he mastered his agitation. He sat down beside her presently, his elbows on his knees, his chin deep in his hands.

“Is God blessing you by any chance?” he said. “Do you feel anything of the kind? Because I am asking Him to—so very hard. I shall ask Him to a million times every day until I die.... Would it be possible for one who has deserved nothing, but who would like it for the strengthingest, beautifulest memory....”

“Quick, then,” said she, “some one's coming.”

That very night screams pierced to every corner of the Tennants' great house on the Whiskey Road. Those whom screams affect in one way sprang from bed; those whom they affect in another hid under the bedclothes. Mr. Tennant himself, a man of sharp temper and implacable courage, dashed from his room in a suit of blue-and-white pajamas, and overturned a Chippendale cabinet worth a thousand dollars; young Mr. Tennant barked both shins on a wood-box and dropped a loaded Colt revolver into the well of the stair; Mrs. Tennant was longer in appearing, having tarried to try the effect upon her nerves and color sense of three divers wrappers. The butler, an Admirable Crichton of a man, came, bearing a bucket of water in case the house was on fire. Mrs. Tennant's French maid carried a case of her mistress's jewels, and seemed determined to leave.

Miss Tennant stood in the door-way of her room. She was pale and greatly agitated, but her eyes shone with courage and resolve. Her arched, blue-veined feet were thrust into a pair of red Turkish slippers turning up at the toes. A mandarin robe of dragoned blue brocade was flung over her night-gown. In one hand she had a golf club—a niblick.

“Oh!” she cried, when her father was sufficiently recovered from overturning the cabinet to listen, “there was a man in my room.”

     Mr. Tennant } { furiously.
     Young Mr. } {
     Tennant } { sleepily.
                 } {
     The butler } “A man?” { as if he thought she
                 } { meant to say a fire.
     The French } {
     maid } { blushing crimson.

Then, and again all together:

     Mr. Tennant— “Which way did he go?”
     Young Mr. Tennant— “Which man?”
     The butler— “A white man?”
     The French maid (with a kind of ecstasy)—
                     “A man!”

“Out the window!” cried Miss Tennant.

Her father and brother dashed downstairs and out into the grounds. The butler hurried to the telephone (still carrying his bucket of water) and rang Central and asked for the chief of police. Central answered, after a long interval, that the chief of police was out of order, and rang off.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Tennant arrived, and, having coldly recovered her jewel-case from the custody of the French maid, prepared to be told the details of what hadn't happened.

“He was bending over my dressing-table, mamma,” said Miss Tennant. “I could see him plainly in the moonlight; he had a mask, and was smooth shaven, and he wore gloves.”

“I wonder why he wore gloves,” mused Mrs. Tennant.

“I suppose,” said Miss Tennant, “that he had heard of the Bertillon system, and was afraid of being tracked by his finger-marks.”

“Did he say anything?”

“Not to me, I think,” said Miss Tennant, “but he kept mumbling to himself so I could hear: 'Slit her damn throat if she makes a move; slit it right into the backbone.' So, of course, I didn't make a move—I thought he was talking to a confederate whom I couldn't see.”

“Why a confederate?” asked Mrs. Tennant. “Oh, I see—you mean a sort of partner.”

“But there was only the one,” said Miss Tennant. “And when he had filled his pockets and was gone by the window—I thought it was safe to scream, and I screamed.”

“Have you looked to see what he took?”

“No. But my jewels were all knocking about on the dressing-table. I suppose he got them.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Tennant, “let's be thankful that he didn't get mine.”

“And only to think,” said Miss Tennant, “that only last night papa asked me why I had given up wearing my pearls, and was put out about it, and I promised to wear them oftener!”

“Never mind, my dear,” said her mother confidentially; “if you are sorry enough long enough your father will buy you others. He can be wonderfully generous if you keep at him.”

“Oh,” said Miss Tennant, “I feel sure that they will be recovered some day—it may not be to-morrow, or next day—but somehow—some time I feel sure that they will come back. Of course papa must offer a reward.”

“I wonder how much he will offer!”

“Oh, a good round sum. I shall suggest five thousand dollars, if he asks me.”

The next day Miss Tennant despatched the following note to Mr. Hemingway:

     DEAR, KIND MR. HEMINGWAY:

     You have heard of the great robbery and of my dreadful fright. But
     there is no use crying about it. It is one of those dreadful
     things, I suppose, that simply have to happen. The burglar was
     smooth-shaven. How awful that this should have to happen in Aiken
     of all cities. In Aiken where we never have felt hitherto that it
     was ever necessary to lock the door. I suppose Mr. Powell's nice
     hardware store will do an enormous business now in patent bolts.
     Papa is going to offer five thousand dollars' reward for the return
     of my jewels, and no questions asked. Do you know, I have a
     feeling that you are going to be instrumental in finding the stolen
     goods. I have a feeling that the thief (if he has any sense at all)
     will negotiate through you for their return. And I am sure the
     thief would never have taken them if he had known how badly it
     would make me feel, and what a blow he was striking at the good
     name of Aiken.

     I am, dear Mr. Hemingway, contritely and sincerely yours,

     SAPPHIRA TENNANT
     (formerly Dolly Tennant).

But Mr. Hemingway refused to touch the reward, and Miss Tennant remained in his debt for the full amount of her loan. She began at once to save what she could from her allowance. And she called this fund her “conscience money.”

Miss Tennant and David Larkin did not meet again until the moment of the latter's departure from Aiken. And she was only one of a number who drove to the station to see him off. Possibly to guard against his impulsive nature, she remained in her runabout during the brief farewell. And what they said to each other might have been (and probably was) heard by others.

Aiken felt that it had misjudged Larkin, and he departed in high favor. He had paid what he owed, so Aiken confessed to having misjudged his resources. He had suddenly stopped short in all evil ways, so Aiken confessed to having misjudged his strength of character. He had announced that he was going out West to seek the bubble wealth in the mouth of an Idaho apple valley, so Aiken cheered him on and wished him well. And when Aiken beheld the calmness of his farewells to Miss Tennant, Aiken said: “And he seems to have gotten over that.”

But Larkin had done nothing of the kind, and he said to himself, as he lay feverish and restless in a stuffy upper berth: “It isn't because she's so beautiful or so kind; it's because she always speaks the truth. Most girls lie about everything, not in so many words, perhaps, but in fact. She doesn't. She lets you know what she thinks, and where you stand ... and I didn't stand very high.”

Despair seized him. How is it possible to go into a strange world, with only nine hundred dollars in your pocket, and carve a fortune? “When can I pay her back? What must I do if I fail?...” Then came thoughts that were as grains of comfort. Was her lending him money philanthropy pure and simple, an act emanating from her love of mankind? Was it not rather an act emanating from affection for a particular man? If so, that man—misguided boy, bird tumbled out of the nest, child that had escaped from its nurse—was not hard to find. “I could lay my finger on him,” thought Larkin, and he did so—five fingers, somewhat grandiosely upon the chest. A gas lamp peered at him over the curtain pole; snores shook the imprisoned atmosphere of the car. And Larkin's thoughts flitted from the past and future to the present.

A question that he now asked himself was: “Do women snore?” And: “If people cannot travel in drawing-rooms, why do they travel at all?” The safety of his nine hundred dollars worried him; he knelt up to look in the inside pocket of his jacket, and bumped his head, a dull, solid bump. Pale golden stars, shaped like the enlarged pictures of snow-flakes, streamed across his consciousness. But the money was safe.

Already his nostrils were irritable with cinders; he attempted to blow them clear, and failed. He was terribly thirsty. He wished very much to smoke. Whichever way he turned, the frogs on the uppers of his pajamas made painful holes in him. He woke at last with two coarse blankets wrapped firmly about his head and shoulders and the rest of him half-naked, gritty with cinders, and as cold as a well curb. Through the ventilators (tightly closed) daylight was struggling with gas-light. The car smelled of stale steam and man. The car wheels played a headachy tune to the metre of the Phoebe-Snow-upon-the-road-of-anthracite verses. David cursed Phoebe Snow, and determined that if ever God vouchsafed him a honey-moon it should be upon the clean, fresh ocean.

There had been wistaria in Aiken. There was snow in New York. There was a hurricane in Chicago. But in the smoker bound West there was a fine old gentleman in a blue-serge suit and white spats who took a fancy to David, just when David had about come to the conclusion that nothing in the world looked friendly except suicide.

If David had learned nothing else from Miss Tennant, he had learned to speak the truth. “Any employer that I am ever to have,” he resolved, “shall know all that there is to be known about me. I shall not try to create the usual impression of a young man seeking his fortune in the West purely for amusement.” And so, when the preliminaries of smoking-room acquaintance had been made—the cigar offered and refused, and one's reasons for or against smoking plainly stated—David was offered (and accepted) the opportunity to tell the story of his life.

David shook his head at a brilliantly labelled cigar eight inches long.

“I love to smoke,” he said, “but I've promised not to.”

“Better habit than liquor,” suggested the old gentleman in the white spats.

“I've promised not to drink.”

“Men who don't smoke and who don't drink,” said the old gentleman, “usually spend their time running after the girls. My name is Uriah Grey.”

“Mine is David Larkin,” said David, and he smiled cheerfully, “and I've promised not to make love.”

“What—never?” exclaimed Mr. Grey.

“Not until I have a right to,” said David.

Mr. Grey drew three brightly bound volumes from between his leg and the arm of his chair, and intimated that he was about to make them a subject of remark.

“I love stories,” he said, “and in the hope of a story I paid a dollar and a half for each of three novels. This one tells you how to prepare rotten meat for the market. This one tells you when and where to find your neighbor's wife without being caught. And in this one a noble young Chicagoan describes the life of society persons in the effete East.”

“Whom he does not know from Adam,” said David.

“Whom he does not distinguish from Adam,” corrected Mr. Grey. “But I was thinking that I am disappointed in my appetite for stories, and that just now you made a most enticing beginning as—'I, Roger Slyweather of Slyweather Hall, Blankshire, England, having at the age of twenty-two or thereabouts made solemn promise neither to smoke nor to drink, nor to make love, did set forth upon a blustering day in April....'”

“Oh,” said David, “if it's my story you want, I don't mind a bit. It will chasten me to tell it, and you can stop me the minute you are bored.”

And then, slip by slip and bet by bet, he told his story, withholding only the sex of that dear friend who had loaned him the five thousand dollars, and to whom he had bound himself by promises.

“Well,” said Mr. Grey, when David had finished, “I don't know your holding-out powers, Larkin, but you do certainly speak the truth without mincing.”

“That,” said David, “is a promise I have made to myself in admiration of and emulation of my friend. But I have had my little lesson, and I shall keep the other promises until I have made good.”

“And then?” Mr. Grey beamed.

“Then,” said David, “I shall smoke and I shall make love.”

“But no liquor.”

David laughed.

“I have a secret clause in my pledge,” said he; “it is not to touch liquor except on the personal invitation of my future father-in-law, whoever he may be.” But he had Dolly Tennant's father in his mind, and the joke seemed good to him.

“Well,” said Mr. Grey, “I don't know as I'd go into apple-growing. You haven't got enough capital.”

“But,” said David, “I intend to begin at the bottom and work up.”

“When I was a youngster,” said Mr. Grey, “I began at the bottom of an apple tree and worked my way to the top. There I found a wasp's nest. Then I fell and broke both arms. That was a lesson to me. Don't go up for your pile, my boy. Go down. Go down into the beautiful earth, and take out the precious metals.”

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed David; “you're the Mr. Grey of Denver.”

“I have a car hitched on to this train,” said the magnate; “I'd be very glad of your company at dinner—seven-thirty. It's not every young man that I'd invite. But seeing that you're under bond not to make love until you've made good, I can see no objection to introducing you to my granddaughter.”

“Grandpa,” said Miss Violet Grey, who was sixteen, spoiled, and exquisite, “make that poor boy stop off at Denver, and do something for him.”

“Since when,” said her grandfather, “have you been so down on apples, miss?”

“Oh,” said she with an approving shudder, “all good women fear them—like so much poison.”

“But,” said Mr. Grey (Mr. “Iron Grey,” some called him), “if I take this young fellow up, it won't be to put him down in a drawing-room, but in a hole a thousand feet deep, or thereabouts.”

“And when he comes out,” said she, “I shall have returned from being finished in Europe.”

“Don't know what there is so attractive about these young Eastern ne'er-do-weels,” said the old gentleman, “but this one has got a certain something....”

“It's his inimitable truthfulness,” said she.

“Not to me,” said her grandfather, “so much as the way he says w instead of r and at the same time gives the impression of having the makings of a man in him....”

“Oh,” she said, “make him, grandpa, do!”

“And if I make him?” The old gentleman smiled provokingly.

“Why,” said she, “then I'll break him.”

“Or,” said her grandfather, who was used to her sudden fancies and subsequent disenchantments, “or else you'll shake him.”

Then he pulled her ears for her and sent her to bed.

In one matter David was, from the beginning of his new career, firmly resolved. He would in no case write Miss Tennant of his hopes and fears. If he was to be promoted she was not to hear of it until after the fact; and she should not be troubled with the sordid details of his savings-bank account. As to fears, very great at first, these dwindled, became atrophied, and were consumed in the fire of work from the moment when that work changed from a daily nuisance to a daily miracle, at once the exercise and the reward of intelligence. His work, really light at first, seemed stupendous to him because he did not understand it. As his understanding grew, he was given heavier work, and behold! it seemed more light. He discovered that great books had been written upon every phase of bringing forth metal from the great mother earth; and he snatched from long days of toil time for more toil, and burned his lamp into the night, so that he might add theory to practice.

I should like to say that David's swift upward career owed thanks entirely to his own good habits, newly discovered gifts for mining engineering, and industry; but a strict regard for the truth prevents. Upon his own resources and talents he must have succeeded in the end; but his success was the swifter for the interest, and presently affection, that Uriah Grey himself contributed toward it. In short, David's chances came to him as soon as he was strong enough to handle them, and were even created on purpose for him; whereas, if he had had no one behind him, he must have had to wait interminably for them. But the main point, of course, is that, as soon as he began to understand what was required of him, he began to make good.

His field work ended about the time that Miss Violet Grey returned from Europe “completely finished and done up,” as she put it herself, and he became a fixture of growing importance in Mr. Grey's main offices in Denver and a thrill in Denver society. His baby w's instead of rolling r's thrilled the ladies; his good habits coupled with his manliness and success thrilled the men.

“He doesn't drink,” said one.

“He doesn't smoke,” said another.

“He doesn't bet,” said a third.

“He can look the saints in the face,” said a fourth; and a fifth, looking up, thumped upon a bell that would summon a waiter, and with emphasis said:

“And we like to have him around!”

Among the youngest and most enthusiastic men it even became the habit to copy David in certain things. He was responsible for a small wave of reform in Denver, as he had once been in Aiken; but for the opposite cause. Little dialogues like the following might frequently be heard in the clubs:

“Have a drink, Billy?”

“Thanks; I don't drink.”

“Cigar, Sam?”

“Thanks (with a moan); don't smoke.”

“Betcherfivedollars, Ned.”

“Sorry, old man; I don't bet.”

Or, in a lowered voice:

“Say, let's drop round to——”

“I've (chillingly) cut out all that sort of thing.”

Platonic friendships became the rage. David himself, as leader, maintained a dozen such, chiefest of which was with the newly finished Miss Grey. At first her very soul revolted against a friendship of this sort. She was lovely, and she knew it; with lovely clothes she made herself even lovelier, and she knew this, too. She was young, and she rejoiced in it. And she had always been a spoiled darling, and she wished to be made much of, to cause a dozen hearts to beat in the breast where but one beat before, to be followed, waited on, adored, bowed down to, and worshipped. She wished yellow-flowering jealousy to sprout in David's heart instead of the calm and loyal friendliness to which alone the soil seemed adapted. She knew that he often wrote letters to a Miss Tennant; and she would have liked very much to have this Miss Tennant in her power, and to have scalped her there and then.

This was only at first, when she merely fancied David rather more than other young men. But a time came when her fancy was stronger for him than that; and then it seemed to her that even his platonic friendship was worth more than all the great passions of history rolled into one. Then from the character of that spoiled young lady were wiped clean away, as the sponge wipes marks from a slate, vanity, whims, temper, tantrums, thoughtlessness, and arrogance, and in their places appeared the opposites. She sought out hard spots in people's lives and made them soft; sympathy and gentleness radiated from her; thoughtfulness and steadfastness.

Her grandfather, who had been reading Ibsen, remarked to himself: “It may be artistically and dramatically inexcusable for the ingénue suddenly to become the heroine—but I like it. As to the cause——” and the old gentleman rested in his deep chair till far into the night, twiddling his thumbs and thinking long thoughts. Finally, frowning and troubled, he rose and went off to his bed.

“Is it,” thought he, “because he gave his word not to make love until he had made good—or is it because he really doesn't give a damn about poor little Vi? If it's the first reason, why he's absolved from that promise, because he has made good, and every day he's making better. But if it's the second reason, why then this world is a wicked, dreary place. Poor little Vi—poor little Vi ... only two things in the whole universe that she can't get—the moon, and David—the moon, and David——”

About noon the next day, David requested speech with his chief.

“Well?” said Uriah. The old man looked worn and feeble. He had had a sorrowful night.

“I haven't had a vacation in a year,” said David. “Will you give me three weeks, sir?”

“Want to go back East and pay off your obligations?”

David nodded.

“I have the money and interest in hand,” said he.

Mr. Grey smiled.

“I suppose you'll come back smoking like a chimney, drinking like a fish, betting like a book-maker, and keeping a whole chorus in picture-hats.”

“I think I'll not even smoke,” said David. “About a month ago the last traces of hankering left me, and I feel like a free man at last.”

“But you'll be making love right and left,” said Mr. Grey cheerfully, but with a shrewd eye upon the young man's expression of face.

David looked grave and troubled. He appeared to be turning over difficult matters in his mind. Then he smiled gayly.

“At least I shall be free to make love if I want to.”

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Grey. “People don't make love because they want to. They do it because they have to.”

Again David looked troubled, and a little sad, perhaps.

“True,” said he. And he walked meditatively back to his own desk, took up a pen, meditated for a long time, and then wrote:

     Best friend that any man ever had in the world! I shall be in
     Aiken on the twenty-fifth, bringing with me that which I owe, and
     can pay, and deeply conscious of that deeper debt that I owe, but
     never can hope to pay. But I will do what I can. I will not now
     take back the promises I gave, unless you wish; I will not do
     anything that you do not wish. And if all the service and devotion
     that is in me for the rest of time seem worth having to you, they
     are yours. But you know that.

     DAVID.

This, looking white, tired, and austere, he reread, folded, enveloped, stamped, sealed, and addressed to Miss Tennant.

Neither the hand which Miss Tennant laid on his, nor the cigarette which she lighted for him, completely mollified Mr. Billy McAllen. He was no longer young enough to dance with pleasure to a maiden's whims. The experience of dancing from New York to Newport and back, and over the deep ocean and back, and up and down Europe and back with the late Mrs. McAllen—now Mrs. Jimmie Greenleaf—had sufficed. He would walk to the altar any day with Miss Tennant, but he would not dance.

“You have so many secrets with yourself,” he complained, “and I'm so very reasonable.”

“True, Billy,” said Miss Tennant. “But if I put up with your secrets, you should put up with mine.”

“I have none,” said he, “unless you are rudely referring to the fact that I gave my wife such grounds for divorce as every gentleman must be prepared to give to a lady who has tired of him. I might have contracted a pleasant liaison; but I didn't. I merely drove up and down Piccadilly with a notorious woman until the courts were sufficiently scandalized. You know that.”

“But is it nothing,” she said, “to have me feel this way toward you?” And she leaned and rested her lovely cheek against his.

“At least, Dolly,” said he, more gently, “announce our engagement, and marry me inside of six months. I've been patient for eighteen. It would have been easy if you had given a good reason....”

“My reason,” said she, “will be in Aiken to-morrow.”

“You speak with such assurance,” said he, smiling, “that I feel sure your reason is not travelling by the Southern. And you'll tell me the reason to-morrow?”

She shook her head.

“Not to-morrow, Billy—now.”

He made no comment, fearing that she might seize upon any as a pretext for putting him off. But he slipped an arm around her waist.

“Tighter if you like,” she said. “I don't mind. My reason, Billy, is a young man. Don't let your arm slacken that way. I don't see any one or anything beyond you in any direction in this world. You know that. There is nothing in the expression 'a young man' to turn you suddenly cold toward me. Don't be a goose.... Not so tight.” They laughed happily. “I will even tell you his name,” she resumed—“David Larkin; and I was a little gone on him, and he was over ears with me. You weren't in Aiken the year he was. Well, he misbehaved something dreadful, Billy; betted himself into a deep, deep hole, and tried to float himself out. I took him in hand, loaned him money, and took his solemn word that he would not even make love until he had paid me back. There was no real understanding between us, only——”

“Only?” McAllen was troubled.

“Only I think he couldn't have changed suddenly from a little fool into a man if he hadn't felt that there was an understanding. And his letters, one every week, confirm that; though he's very careful, because of his promise, not to make love in them.... You see, he's been working his head off—there's no way out of it, Billy—for me.... If you hadn't crossed my humble path I think I should have possessed enough sentiment for David to have been—the reward.”

“But there was no understanding.”

“No. Not in so many words. But at the last talk we had together he was humble and pathetic and rather manly, and I did a very foolish thing.”

“What?”

“Oh,” she said with a blush, “I sat still.”

“Let me blot it out,” said McAllen, drawing her very close.

“But I can only remember up to seven,” said she, “and I am afraid that nothing can blot them out as far as David is concerned. He will come to-morrow as sure that I have been faithful to him as that he has been faithful to me.... It's all very dreadful.... He will pay me back the money, and the interest; and then I shall give him back the promises that he gave, and then he will make love to me....”

She sighed, and said that the thought of the pickle she had got herself into made her temples ache. McAllen kissed them for her.

“But why,” he said, “when you got to care for me, didn't you let this young man learn gradually in your letters to him that—that it was all off?”

“I was afraid, don't you see,” said she, “that if the incentive was suddenly taken away from him—he might go to pieces. And I was fond of him, and I am proud to think that he has made good for my sake, and the letters.... Oh, Billy, it's a dreadful mess. My letters to him have been rather warm, I am afraid.”

“Damn!” said McAllen.

“Damn!” said Miss Tennant.

“If he would have gone to pieces before this,” said McAllen, “why not now?—after you tell him, I mean.”

“Why not?” said she dismally. “But if he does, Billy, I can only be dreadfully sorry. I'm certainly not going to wreck our happiness just to keep him on the war-path.”

“But you'll not be weak, Dolly?”

“How!—weak?”

“He'll be very sad and miserable—you won't be carried away? You won't, upon the impulse of the moment, feel that it is your duty to go on saving him?... If that should happen, Dolly, I should go to pieces.”

“Must I tell him,” she said, “that I never really cared? He will think me such a—a liar. And I'm not a liar, Billy, am I? I'm just unlucky.”

“I don't believe,” said he tenderly, “that you ever told a story in your whole sweet life.”

“Oh,” she cried, “I do love you when you say things like that to me.... Let's not talk about horrid things any more, and mistakes, and bugbears.... If we're going to show up at the golf club tea.... It's Mrs. Carrol's to-day and we promised her to come.”

“Oh,” said McAllen, “we need not start for ten minutes.... When will you marry me?”

“In May,” she said.

Good girl,” said he.

“Billy,” she said presently, “it was all the first Mrs. Billy's fault—wasn't it?”

“No, dear,” said he, “it wasn't. It's never all of anybody's fault. Do you care?”

“No.”

“Are you afraid?”

“No.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“So much,” and she made the gesture that a baby makes when you ask, “How big's the baby?”

“What's your name?”

“Dolly.”

“Whose girl are you?”

“I'm Billy McAllen's girl.”

“All of you?”

She grew very serious in a moment.

“All of me, Billy—all that is straight in me, all that is crooked, all that is white, all that is black....”

But he would not be serious.

“How about this hand? Is that mine?”

“Yours.”

He kissed it.

“This cheek?”

“Yours.”

“And this?”

“Yours.”

“These eyes?”

“Both yours.”

He closed them, first one, then the other.

Then a kind of trembling seized him, so that it was evident in his speech.

“This mouth, Dolly?”

“Mumm.”

And so, as the romantic school has it, “the long day dragged slowly on.”

David may have thought it pure chance that he should find Dolly Tennant alone. But it was not. She had given the matter not a little strategy and arrangement. Why, however, in view of her relations with McAllen, she should have made herself as attractive as possible to the eye is for other women to say.

It was to be April in a few days, and March was going out like a fiery dragon. The long, broad shadow of the terrace awning helped to darken the Tennants' drawing-room, and Venetian blinds, half-drawn, made a kind of cool dusk, in which it came natural to speak in a lowered voice, and to move quietly, as if some one were sick in the house. Miss Tennant sat very low, with her hands clasped over her knees; a brocade and Irish lace work-bag spilled its contents at her feet. She wore a twig of tea olive in her dress so that the whole room smelled of ripe peaches. She had never looked lovelier or more desirable.

“David!” she exclaimed. Her tone at once expressed delight at seeing him, and was an apology for remaining languidly seated. And she looked him over in a critical, maternal way.

“If you hadn't sent in your name,” she said, “I should never have known you. You stand taller and broader, David. You filled the door-way. But you're not really much bigger, now that I look at you. It's your character that has grown.... I'm so proud of you.”

David was very pale. It may have been from his long journey. But he at least did not know, because he said that he didn't when she asked him.

“And now,” she said, “you must tell me all that you haven't written.”

“Not quite yet,” said David. “There is first a little matter of business....”

“Oh—” she protested.

But David counted out his debt to her methodically, with the accrued interest.

“Put it in my work-bag,” she said.

“Did you ever expect to see it again?”

“Yes, David.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“But I,” she said, “I, too, have things of yours to return.”

“Of mine?” He lifted his eyebrows expectantly.

She waved a hand, white and clean as a cherry blossom, toward a claw-footed table on which stood decanters, ice, soda, cigarettes, cigars, and matches.

“Your collateral,” she said.

“Oh,” said David. “But I have decided not to be a backslider.”

“I know,” she said. “But in business—as a matter of form.”

“Oh,” said David, “if it's a matter of form, it must be complied with.”

He stepped to the table, smiling charmingly, and poured from the nearest decanter into a glass, added ice and soda, and lifting the mixture touched it to his lips, and murmured, “To you.”

Then he put a cigarette in his mouth, and, after drawing the one breath that served to light it, flicked it, with perfect accuracy, half across the room and into the fireplace.

Still smiling, he walked slowly toward Miss Tennant, who was really excited to know what he would do next.

“Betcher two cents it snows to-morrow,” said he.

“Done with you, David,” she took him up merrily. And after that a painful silence came over them. David set his jaws.

“I gave you one more promise,” he said. “Is that, too, returned?”

“Of course,” she said, “all the promises you gave are herewith returned.”

“Then I may make love?” he asked very gently.

She did not answer for some moments, and then, steeling herself, for she thought that she must hurt him:

“Yes, David,” she said slowly, “you may—as a matter of form.”

“Only in that way?”

“In that way only, David—to me.”

“I thought—I thought,” said the young man in confusion.

“I made you think so,” she said generously. “Let all of the punishment, that can, be heaped on me ... David....” There was a deep appeal in her voice as for mercy and forgiveness.

“Then,” said he, “you never did care—at all.”

But even at this juncture Miss Tennant could not speak the truth.

“Never, David—never at all—at least not in that way,” she said. “If I let you think so it was because I thought it would help you to be strong and to succeed.... God knows I think I was wrong to let you think so....”

But she broke off suddenly a stream of extenuation that was welling in her mind; for David did not look like a man about to be cut off in the heyday of his youth by despair.

She had the tenderest heart; and in a moment the truth blossomed therein—a truth that brought her pleasure, bewilderment, and was not unmixed with mortification.

“The man,” she said gently, “has found him another girl!”

The man bowed his head and blushed.

“But I have kept my promise, Dolly.”

“Of course you have, you poor, dear, long-suffering soul. Oh, David, when I think what I have been taking for granted I am humiliated, and ashamed—but I am glad, too. I cannot tell you how glad.”

A pair of white gloves, still showing the shape of her hands, lay in the chair where Miss Tennant had tossed them. David brought her one of these gloves.

“Put it on,” he said.

When she had done so, he took her gloved hand in his and kissed it.

“As a matter of form,” he said.

She laughed easily, though the blush of humiliation had not yet left her cheeks.

“Tell me,” she said, “what you would have done, David, if—if I did care.”

“God punish me,” he said gravely, “oh, best friend that ever a man had in the world, if I should not then have made you a good husband.”

Not long after McAllen was with her.

“Well?” he said.

“Well,” said she, “there was a train that he could catch. And I suppose he caught it.”

“How did he—er, behave?”

“Considering the circumstances,” said she, “he behaved very well.”

“Is he hard hit?”

She considered a while; but the strict truth was not in that young lady.

“I think,” she said, “that you may say that he is hard hit—very hard hit.”

“Poor soul,” said Billy tenderly.

“Oh, Billy!” she exclaimed, “I feel so false and so old.”

“Old!” he cried. “You! You at twenty-five say that to me at——”

“It isn't as if I was just twenty-five, Billy,” and she burst out laughing. “The terrible part of it is that I'm still twenty-five.”

But he only smiled and smiled. She seemed like a little child to him, all innocence, and inexperience, and candor.

Then as her laughter merged into tears he knelt and caught her in his arms.

“Dolly—Dolly!” he said in a choking voice. “What is your name?”

“Dolly.” The tears came slowly.

“Whose girl are you?”

“I'm Billy McAllen's girl.” The tears ceased.

“All of you?”

“All of me.... Oh, Billy—love me always—only love me....”

And for these two the afternoon dragged slowly on, and very much as usual.

“You are two days ahead of schedule, David. I'm glad to see you.”

Though Uriah Grey's smile was bland and simple, beneath it lay a complicated maze of speculation; and the old man endeavored to read in the young man's face the answers to those questions which so greatly concerned him. Uriah Grey's eyesight was famous for two things: for its miraculous, almost chemical ability to detect the metals in ore and the gold in men. He sighed; but not so that David could hear. The magnate detected happiness where less than two weeks before he had read doubt, hesitation, and a kind of dumb misery.

“You have had a pleasant holiday?”

“A happy one, Mr. Grey.” David's eyes twinkled and sparkled.

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, sir, I paid my debts and got back my collateral.”

“Well, sir?”

“I tasted whiskey,” said David. “I lighted a cigarette, I registered a bet of two cents upon the weather, and I made love.”

Uriah Grey with difficulty suppressed a moan.

“Did you!” he said dully.

“Yes,” said David. “I kissed the glove upon a lady's hand.” He laughed. “It smelled of gasoline,” he said.

Mr. Grey grunted.

“And what are your plans?”

“What!” cried David offendedly. “Are you through with me?”

“No, my boy—no.”

David hesitated.

“Mr. Grey,” he began, and paused.

“Well, sir?”

“It is now lawful for me to make love,” said David; “but I should do so with a better grace if I had your permission and approval.”

Mr. Grey was puzzled.

“What have I to do with it?”

“You have a granddaughter....”

“What!” thundered the old man. “You want to make love to my granddaughter!”

“Yes,” said David boldly, “and I wonder what you are going to say.”

“I have only one word to say—Hurry!”

“David!”

Spools of silk rattled from her lap to the floor. She was frankly and childishly delighted to see him again, and she hurried to him and gave him both her hands. But he looked so happy that her heart misgave her for a moment, and then she read his eyes aright, just as long since he must have read the confession in hers. At this juncture in their lives there could not have been detected in either of them the least show of hesitation or embarrassment. It was as if two travellers in the desert, dying of thirst, should meet, and each conceive in hallucination that the other was a spring of sweet water.

Presently David was looking into the lovely face that he held between his hands. He had by this time squeezed her shoulders, patted her back, kissed her feet, her dress, her hands, her eyes, and pawed her hair. They were both very short of breath.

“Violet,” he gasped, “what is your name?”

“Violet.”

“Whose girl are you?”

“I'm David Larkin's girl.”

“All of you?”

“All—all—all——”

It was the beginning of another of those long, tedious afternoons. But to the young people concerned it seemed that never until then had such words as they spoke to each other been spoken, or such feelings of almost insupportable tenderness and adoration been experienced.

Yet back there in Aiken, Sapphira was experiencing the same feelings, and thinking the same thoughts about them; and so was Billy McAllen. And when you think that he had already been divorced once, and that Sapphira, as she herself (for once truthfully) confessed, was still twenty-five, it gives you as high an opinion of the little bare god—as he deserves.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page