Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
EXPANDING AND CONTRACTING.
In such a city as New York, to be deliberately careful about money is the only way to keep within one's income, whether it be vast or small. There are temptations to buy at the end of every glance of the eye. The merchants are crafty in producing new and insidious allurements, in creating new and expensive tastes. But these might be resisted were it not that the habits of all one's associates are constantly and all but irresistibly stimulating the faculty of imitation.
Neither Howard nor Marian had been brought up to be watchful about money. Both had been accustomed to having their wants supplied. And now that they had a household and a growing income, it was a matter of course that their expenditures should steadily expand. Before three years had passed they were spending more than double the sum which at the outset they had fixed upon as their limit. A merely decent and self-respecting return of the hospitalities they accepted, a carriage and pair and two saddle horses and the servants to look after them--these items accounted for the increase. They looked upon this as really necessary expenditure and soon would have found that curtailment involved genuine deprivation. From the very beginning each step in expansion made the next logical and inevitable, made the plea of necessity seem valid.
An aunt of Marian's died, leaving her a "small" house--worth perhaps a quarter of a million--near the Avenue in Sixty-fifth Street, and eighty thousand in cash. About the same time Stokely told Howard of a fine speculative opportunity in certain copper properties. Howard hesitated. He knew that the way of speculation was the way of bondage for his newspaper and for him. But this particular adventure seemed harmless and he yielded. The money was invested and within a few months was producing an income of fifteen thousand a year which promised to be steady. Howard's ownership of stock in the paper increased; and as the profits advanced swiftly with its swift growth in its illustrated form, his own income was nearly fifty thousand a year. They were growing very rich. There was no longer the slightest anxiety as to money in his mind.
"You know the great dread I had in marrying," he said to her one day, "was lest I should make myself and you dependents, should some day sacrifice my freedom to my fear of losing--happiness."
"Yes, and very foolish you were, not to have more confidence in yourself and in me."
"Perhaps. But what I am thinking is that you have brought me luck. I am free, beyond anybody's reach. I could quit the paper to-morrow and we should hardly have to change our style of living even if I did not get something else to do."
"Style of living--" in that phrase lay the key to the change that was swiftly going on in Howard's mind and mental attitude. It is not easy for a man with environment wholly in his favour to keep his point of view correct, to keep his horizon wide and clear, his sense of proportion just. It is next to impossible for him to do so when his environment opposes.
The man who looks out from misery and squalor upon misery and squalor is, if he thinks at all, naturally an anarchist. To him the established order shows only injustice and persistence of injustice. The man who looks out from luxury and ease and well-being upon luxury and ease and well-being is forced by the very limitations of the human mind to an over-reverence for the established order. He is unreasonably suspicious of anything that threatens change. "When I'm comfortable all's well in the world; change might bring discomfort to me." And he flatters himself that he is a "conservative."
Howard had had a long training at the correct standpoint and in right thinking. But the influences were there, were at work, were destroying his devotion to a social and political ideal wholly alien to the life he was now living under the leading of his wife. He did not blame her, indeed he could not justly have blamed her, for his falling away from what he knew were correct principles for him. While she had brought him into this environment, while at first it was in large part for her that he gave so much time and thought to the accumulation of wealth, soon love of luxury, dependence upon a train of servants, fondness for the great extravagances to which New York tempts the rich and those living near the rich, became stronger in him than it was in her. And through the inevitable reaction of environment upon the man, the central point in his valuation of men and women tended to shift from the fundamentals, mind and character, to the surface qualities--dress and style and manners and refinement, and even dress.
This process of demoralisation was well advanced when they moved from the apartment. After four years of "expansion" there, they had begun to feel cramped; and a year after Marian inherited the house Howard had progressed to the mental, the moral, the financial state where it seemed natural, logical, practically necessary that they should set up a real New York "establishment."
"Isn't this just the house for us?" she said. "I hate huge, big houses. Like you, I think the taste of the occupants should be everywhere. Now this house is just big enough. You don't know how wonderful it would be."
"Oh, yes, I do," he laughed, "and you must try it." He was as enthusiastic as she.
In the late autumn the house was ready; and there was not a more artistic interior in New York. It was not so much the result of great expense as of intelligence and taste. It was an expression of an individuality--a revelation of a woman's beautiful mind, inspired by love.
"At last I have something to interest, to occupy me," she said. "This is our very own, through and through our own. It will be such a pleasure to me to keep it always like this."
"You--degenerated into a household drudge," he mocked. "Why, you used to laugh at me when I held up a wife who was a good housekeeper as one of my ideals."
"Did I?" she answered. "Well, as you would say, see what I've come to through living with--a member of the working-classes."
Howard's own particular part of this house included a library with a small study next to it. In the study was a most attractive table with plenty of room to spread about books and papers, a huge divan in the corner and a fire-place near by. He found himself doing more and more of his work at home. There were not so many interruptions as at the office, the beauty of the surroundings, the consciousness that "she" was not far away--all combined to keep him at home and to enable him to do more and better work there.
He was justly and greatly proud of her achievement; and where he used to be more regretful than he admitted even to himself when they had guests, he was now glad to see others about, admiring her taste, appreciating her skill as a hostess and giving him opportunities to look at her from an ever new point of view.
Of course these guests were almost all "their kind of people"--amiable, well mannered persons who thought and acted in that most conventional of moulds, the mould of "good society." They fitted into the surroundings, they did their part toward making those surroundings luxurious--a "wallow of self-complacent content." And this environment soon suited and fitted him exactly.
But to her he was still The Democrat. She loved him in the way and to the degree which her character, as the years had developed it, permitted her to love. And this love, or rather admiring respect, was wholly based upon her ideal of him, her belief in the honesty and intensity of his convictions. While she did not share them, she had breadth enough to admire them and to regard them as high removed above her own ideas to which for herself she held tenaciously, instinct and association and "tradition" triumphing over reason.
Howard retained his ideal of her, never examining her closely, never seeing or suspecting what a pale love she gave him and how shrivelled had become the part of her nature which she and he both assumed was most strongly developed. He knew how she idealised him and did not dare to undeceive her. Therefore he practised toward her a hypocrisy that grew steadily more disgraceful, yet grew so gradually that there was no single moment at which he could conveniently halt and "straighten the record." At first he was often and heartily ashamed of himself; but by degrees this feeling deadened into cynical insensibility and he was only ashamed to let her see him as he really was. She had kept her self-respect. She esteemed self-respect at the exalted valuation he had formerly put upon it. What if she should find him out?
* * * * * * *
When the famous "coal conspiracy" was formed, three of the men conspicuous in it were among their intimates--that is, their families were often at his house and he and Marian were often at theirs. Yet he had never made a more relentless attack. Nor did he, either in the news columns or on the editorial page, conceal the connection of his three friends with the conspiracy.
"Mrs. Mercer was here this morning," Marian said as they were waiting for the butler to announce dinner. She was flushed and embarrassed.
Howard laughed. "And did she tell you what a dreadful husband you had?"
"Oh, she didn't blame you at all. She said they all knew how perfectly upright you were. Only, she said you did not understand and were doing Mr. Mercer a great injustice."
"Well, what do you think?"
"Why--I can't believe--is it possible, dear--I was just reading one of your editorials. Can Mr. Mercer be in such a scheme? The way she told it to me, he and the others were really doing a lot of people a valuable service, putting their property on a paying basis, enabling the railroads to meet their expenses and to keep thousands and thousands of men employed."
"Poor Mercer!" Howard said ironically. "Poor misunderstood philanthropist! What a pity that that sort of benevolence has to be carried on by bribing judges and prosecutors and legislatures, by making the poor shiver and freeze, by subtracting from the pleasures and adding to the anxieties of millions. One would almost say that such a philanthropy had better not be undertaken. It is so likely to be misunderstood by the 'unruly classes.'"
"Oh, I knew you were right. I told her you must be right, that you never wrote until you knew."
"And what was the result?"
"Well, we are making some very bitter enemies."
"I doubt it. I suspect that before long they'll come wheedling about in the hope that I'll let up on them or be a little easier next time."
"I'm sure I do not care what they do," said Marian, drawing herself up. "All I care for is--you, and to see you do your duty at whatever cost or regardless of cost--" she was leaning over the back of his chair with her arms about his neck and her lips very near to his ear--"you are my love without fear and without reproach."
"Listen, dear." He took her hand and drew her arms more closely about his neck. "Suppose that the lines were drawn--as they may be any day. Suppose that we had to choose, with all these friends of yours, with our position, yes, even the place I have won in my profession, my place as editor--all that we now have on the one side; and on the other side a thankless, unprofitable, apparently useless standing up for the right. Wouldn't you miss your friends?"
"All our friends? And who will be on the other side?"
"Almost no one that we know--that you would care to call upon or go about with or have here at the house. Nobody with any great amount of wealth or social position. Those other people who are in town when it is said 'Nobody is in town now!'"
She did not answer.
"Where would you be?" he repeated.
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of that." She came around and sat on his knee. "Where? Why, there's only one 'where' in all this world for me--'wheresoever thou goest.'"
And so the half-formed impulse to begin to straighten himself out with her was smothered by her.
Both were silent through dinner. She was thinking how honest, how fearless he was, how he loved her, how eagerly she would follow him, how blessed she was in the love of such a man. And he--he was regretting that his "pose" had carried him so far; he was wishing that he had not been so bitter in his attacks upon his and his wife's friends, the coal conspirators. When he had definitely cast in his lot with "the shearers" why persist in making his hypocrisy more abominable by protesting more loudly than ever in behalf of "the sheep?" Above all, why had he let his habit of voluble denunciation lead him into this hypocrisy with the woman he loved?
He admitted to himself that "causes" had ceased to interest him except as they might contribute to the advancement of his power. Power!--that was his ambition now. First he had wished to have an independent income in order to be free. When he had achieved that, it was at the sacrifice of his mental freedom. And now, with the clearness of self-knowledge which only men of great ability have, he knew that the one cause for which he would make sacrifices was--himself.
"Of what are you thinking so gloomily?" she interrupted.
"Oh--I--let me see--well, I was thinking what a fraud I am; and that I wished I could dupe myself as completely as I can dupe--"
"Me?" she laughed. "Oh, we're all frauds--shocking frauds. I wouldn't have you see me as I really am for anything."
Although her remark was a commonplace, of small meaning, as he knew, he got comfort out of it, so desperately was he casting about for some consolation.
"That's true, my dear," he said. "And I wish that you liked the kind of a fraud I am as well as I like the kind of a fraud you are."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.