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The Last Asset

I

"THE devil!" Paul Garnett exclaimed as he re-read his note; and the
dry old gentleman who was at the moment his only neighbour in the
quiet restaurant they both frequented, remarked with a smile: "You
don't seem particularly annoyed at meeting him."

Garnett returned the smile. "I don't know why I apostrophized him,
for he's not in the least present--except inasmuch as he may prove
to be at the bottom of anything unexpected."

The old gentleman who, like Garnett, was an American, and spoke in
the thin rarefied voice which seems best fitted to emit sententious
truths, twisted his lean neck toward the younger man and cackled out
shrewdly: "Ah, it's generally a woman who is at the bottom of the
unexpected. Not," he added, leaning forward with deliberation to
select a tooth-pick, "that that precludes the devil's being there
too."

Garnett uttered the requisite laugh, and his neighbour, pushing back
his plate, called out with a perfectly unbending American
intonation: "Gassong! L'addition, silver play."

His repast, as usual, had been a simple one, and he left only thirty
centimes in the plate on which his account was presented; but the
waiter, to whom he was evidently a familiar presence, received the
tribute with Latin affability, and hovered helpfully about the table
while the old gentleman cut and lighted his cigar.

"Yes," the latter proceeded, revolving the cigar meditatively
between his thin lips, "they're generally both in the same hole,
like the owl and the prairie-dog in the natural history books of my
youth. I believe it was all a mistake about the owl and the
prairie-dog, but it isn't about the unexpected. The fact is, the
unexpected _is_ the devil--the sooner you find that out, the happier
you'll be." He leaned back, tilting his smooth bald head against the
blotched mirror behind him, and rambling on with gentle garrulity
while Garnett attacked his omelet.

"Get your life down to routine--eliminate surprises. Arrange things
so that, when you get up in the morning, you'll know exactly what is
going to happen to you during the day--and the next day and the
next. I don't say it's funny--it ain't. But it's better than being
hit on the head by a brick-bat. That's why I always take my meals at
this restaurant. I know just how much onion they put in things--if I
went to the next place I shouldn't. And I always take the same
streets to come here--I've been doing it for ten years now. I know
at which crossings to look out--I know what I'm going to see in the
shop-windows. It saves a lot of wear and tear to know what's coming.
For a good many years I never did know, from one minute to another,
and now I like to think that everything's cut-and-dried, and nothing
unexpected can jump out at me like a tramp from a ditch."

He paused calmly to knock the ashes from his cigar, and Garnett said
with a smile: "Doesn't such a plan of life cut off nearly all the
possibilities?"

The old gentleman made a contemptuous motion. "Possibilities of
what? Of being multifariously miserable? There are lots of ways of
being miserable, but there's only one way of being comfortable, and
that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your
mind not to be happy there's no reason why you shouldn't have a
fairly good time."

"That was Schopenhauer's idea, I believe," the young man said,
pouring his wine with the smile of youthful incredulity.

"I guess he hadn't the monopoly," responded his friend. "Lots of
people have found out the secret--the trouble is that so few live up
to it."

He rose from his seat, pushing the table forward, and standing
passive while the waiter advanced with his shabby overcoat and
umbrella. Then he nodded to Garnett, lifted his hat politely to the
broad-bosomed lady behind the desk, and passed out into the street.

Garnett looked after him with a musing smile. The two had exchanged
views on life for two years without so much as knowing each other's
names. Garnett was a newspaper correspondent whose work kept him
mainly in London, but on his periodic visits to Paris he lodged in a
dingy hotel of the Latin Quarter, the chief merit of which was its
nearness to the cheap and excellent restaurant where the two
Americans had made acquaintance. But Garnett's assiduity in
frequenting the place arose, in the end, less from the excellence of
the food than from the enjoyment of his old friend's conversation.
Amid the flashy sophistications of the Parisian life to which
Garnett's trade introduced him, the American sage's conversation had
the crisp and homely flavor of a native dish--one of the domestic
compounds for which the exiled palate is supposed to yearn. It was a
mark of the old man's impersonality that, in spite of the interest
he inspired, Garnett had never got beyond idly wondering who he
might be, where he lived, and what his occupations were. He was
presumably a bachelor--a man of family ties, however relaxed, though
he might have been as often absent from home would not have been as
regularly present in the same place--and there was about him a
boundless desultoriness which renewed Garnett's conviction that
there is no one on earth as idle as an American who is not busy.
From certain allusions it was plain that he had lived many years in
Paris, yet he had not taken the trouble to adapt his tongue to the
local inflections, but spoke French with the accent of one who has
formed his conception of the language from a phrase-book.

The city itself seemed to have made as little impression on him as
its speech. He appeared to have no artistic or intellectual
curiosities, to remain untouched by the complex appeal of Paris,
while preserving, perhaps the more strikingly from his very
detachment, that odd American astuteness which seems the fruit of
innocence rather than of experience. His nationality revealed itself
again in a mild interest in the political problems of his adopted
country, though they appeared to preoccupy him only as illustrating
the boundless perversity of mankind. The exhibition of human folly
never ceased to divert him, and though his examples of it seemed
mainly drawn from the columns of one exiguous daily paper, he found
there matter for endless variations on his favorite theme. If this
monotony of topic did not weary the younger man, it was because he
fancied he could detect under it the tragic implication of the fixed
idea--of some great moral upheaval which had flung his friend
stripped and starving on the desert island of the little cafe where
they met. He hardly knew wherein he read this revelation--whether in
the resigned shabbiness of the sage's dress, the impartial courtesy
of his manner, or the shade of apprehension which lurked,
indescribably, in his guileless yet suspicious eye. There were
moments when Garnett could only define him by saying that he looked
like a man who had seen a ghost.


II

AN apparition almost as startling had come to Garnett himself in the
shape of the mauve note received from his _concierge_ as he was
leaving the hotel for luncheon.

Not that, on the face of it, a missive announcing Mrs. Sam Newell's
arrival at Ritz's, and her need of his presence there that afternoon
at five, carried any special mark of the portentous. It was not her
being at Ritz's that surprised him. The fact that she was
chronically hard up, and had once or twice lately been so brutally
confronted with the consequences as to accept--indeed solicit--a
loan of five pounds from him: this circumstance, as Garnett knew,
would never be allowed to affect the general tenor of her existence.
If one came to Paris, where could one go but to Ritz's? Did he see
her in some grubby hole across the river? Or in a family _pension_
near the Place de l'Etoile? There was no affectation in her tendency
to gravitate toward what was costliest and most conspicuous. In
doing so she obeyed one of the profoundest instincts of her nature,
and it was another instinct which taught her to gratify the first at
any cost, even to that of dipping into the pocket of an impecunious
newspaper correspondent. It was a part of her strength--and of her
charm too--that she did such things naturally, openly, without any
of the ugly grimaces of dissimulation or compunction.

Her recourse to Garnett had of course marked a specially low ebb in
her fortunes. Save in moments of exceptional dearth she had richer
sources of supply; and he was nearly sure that, by running over the
"society column" of the Paris _Herald_, he should find an
explanation, not perhaps of her presence at Ritz's, but of her means
of subsistence there. What really perplexed him was not the
financial but the social aspect of the case. When Mrs. Newell had
left London in July she had told him that, between Cowes and
Scotland, she and Hermy were provided for till the middle of
October: after that, as she put it, they would have to look about.
Why, then, when she had in her hand the opportunity of living for
three months at the expense of the British aristocracy, did she rush
off to Paris at heaven knew whose expense in the beginning of
September? She was not a woman to act incoherently; if she made
mistakes they were not of that kind. Garnett felt sure she would
never willingly relax her hold on her distinguished friends--was it
possible that it was they who had somewhat violently let go of her?

As Garnett reviewed the situation he began to see that this
possibility had for some time been latent in it. He had felt that
something might happen at any moment--and was not this the something
he had obscurely foreseen? Mrs. Newell really moved too fast: her
position was as perilous as that of an invading army without a base
of supplies. She used up everything too quickly--friends, credit,
influence, forbearance. It was so easy for her to acquire all
these--what a pity she had never learned to keep them! He himself,
for instance--the most insignificant of her acquisitions--was
beginning to feel like a squeezed sponge at the mere thought of her;
and it was this sense of exhaustion, of the inability to provide
more, either materially or morally, which had provoked his
exclamation on opening her note. From the first days of their
acquaintance her prodigality had amazed him, but he had believed it
to be surpassed by the infinity of her resources. If she exhausted
old supplies she always found new ones to replace them. When one set
of people began to find her impossible, another was always beginning
to find her indispensable. Yes--but there were limits--there were
only so many sets of people, at least in her social classification,
and when she came to an end of them, what then? Was this flight to
Paris a sign that she had come to an end--was she going to try Paris
because London had failed her? The time of year precluded such a
conjecture. Mrs. Newell's Paris was non-existent in September. The
town was a desert of gaping trippers--he could as soon think of her
seeking social restoration at Margate.

For a moment it occurred to him that she might have to come over to
replenish her wardrobe; but he knew her dates too well to dwell long
on this hope. It was in April and December that she visited the
dress-makers: before December, he had heard her explain, one got
nothing but "the American fashions." Mrs. Newell's scorn of all
things American was somewhat illogically coupled with the
determination to use her own Americanism to the utmost as a means of
social advance. She had found out long ago that, on certain lines,
it paid in London to be American, and she had manufactured for
herself a personality independent of geographical or social
demarcations, and presenting that remarkable blend of plantation
dialect, Bowery slang and hyperbolic statement, which is the British
nobility's favorite idea of an unadulterated Americanism. Mrs.
Newell, for all her talents, was not naturally either humorous or
hyperbolic, and there were times when it would doubtless have been a
relief to her to be as monumentally stolid as some of the persons
whose dulness it was her fate to enliven. It was perhaps the need of
relaxing which had drawn her into her odd intimacy with Garnett,
with whom she did not have to be either scrupulously English or
artificially American, since the impression she made on him was of
no more consequence than that which she produced on her footman.
Garnett was perfectly aware that he owed his success to his
insignificance, but the fact affected him only as adding one more
element to his knowledge of Mrs. Newell's character. He was as ready
to sacrifice his personal vanity in such a cause as he had been, at
the outset of their acquaintance, to sacrifice his professional
pride to the opportunity of knowing her.

When he had accepted the position of "London correspondent" (with an
occasional side-glance at Paris) to the New York _Searchlight_, he
had not understood that his work was to include the obligation of
"interviewing"; indeed, had the possibility presented itself in
advance, he would have met it by unpacking his valise and returning
to the drudgery of his assistant-editorship in New York. But when,
after three months in Europe, he received a letter from his chief,
suggesting that he should enliven the Sunday _Searchlight_ by a
series of "Talks with Smart Americans in London" (beginning, say,
with Mrs. Sam Newell), the change of focus already enabled him to
view the proposal without passion. For his life on the edge of the
great world-caldron of art, politics and pleasure--of that
high-spiced brew which is nowhere else so subtly and variously
compounded--had bred in him an eager appetite to taste of the heady
mixture. He knew he should never have the full spoon at his lips,
but he recalled the peasant-girl in one of Browning's plays, who has
once eaten polenta cut with a knife which has carved an ortolan.
Might not Mrs. Newell, who had so successfully cut a way into the
dense and succulent mass of English society, serve as the knife to
season his polenta?

He had expected, as the result of the interview, to which she
promptly, almost eagerly, assented, no more than the glimpse of
brightly lit vistas which a waiting messenger may catch through open
doors; but instead he had found himself drawn at once into the inner
sanctuary, not of London society, but of Mrs. Newell's relation to
it. She had been candidly charmed by the idea of the interview: it
struck him that she was conscious of the need of being freshened up.
Her appearance was brilliantly fresh, with the inveterate freshness
of the toilet-table; her paint was as impenetrable as armor. But her
personality was a little tarnished: she was in want of social
renovation. She had been doing and saying the same things for too
long a time. London, Cowes, Homburg, Scotland, Monte Carlo--that had
been the round since Hermy was a baby. Hermy was her daughter, Miss
Hermione Newell, who was called in presently to be shown off to the
interviewer and add a paragraph to the celebration of her mother's
charms.

Miss Newell's appearance was so full of an unassisted freshness that
for a moment Garnett made the mistake of fancying that she could
fill a paragraph of her own. But he soon found that her vague
personality was merely tributary to her parent's; that her youth and
grace were, in some mysterious way, her mother's rather than her
own. She smiled obediently on Garnett, but could contribute little
beyond her smile and the general sweetness of her presence, to the
picture of Mrs. Newell's existence which it was the young man's
business to draw. And presently he found that she had left the room
without his noticing it.

He learned in time that this unnoticeableness was the most
conspicuous thing about her. Burning at best with a mild light, she
became invisible in the glare of her mother's personality. It was in
fact only as a product of her environment that poor Hermione struck
the imagination. With the smartest woman in London as her guide and
example she had never developed a taste for dress, and with
opportunities for enlightenment from which Garnett's fancy recoiled
she remained simple, unsuspicious and tender, with an inclination to
good works and afternoon church, a taste for the society of dull
girls, and a clinging fidelity to old governesses and retired
nurse-maids. Mrs. Newell, whose boast it was that she looked facts
in the face, frankly owned that she had not been able to make
anything of Hermione. "If she has a role I haven't discovered it,"
she confessed to Garnett. "I've tried everything, but she doesn't
fit in anywhere."

Mrs. Newell spoke as if her daughter were a piece of furniture
acquired without due reflection, and for which no suitable place
could be found. She got, of course, what she could out of Hermione,
who wrote her notes, ran her errands, saw tiresome people for her,
and occupied an intermediate office between that of lady's maid and
secretary; but such small returns on her investment were not what
Mrs. Newell had counted on. What was the use of producing and
educating a handsome daughter if she did not, in some more positive
way, contribute to her parent's advancement?


III

"IT'S about Hermy," Mrs. Newell said, rising from the heap of
embroidered cushions which formed the background of her afternoon
repose.

Her sitting-room at Ritz's was full of penetrating warmth and
fragrance. Long-stemmed roses filled the vases on the chimney-piece,
in which a fire sparkled with that effect of luxury which fires
produce when the weather is not cold enough to justify them. On the
writing-table, among notes and cards, and signed photographs of
celebrities, Mrs. Newell's gold inkstand, her jewelled penholder,
her heavily-monogrammed despatch-box, gave back from their expensive
surfaces the glint of the flame, which sought out and magnified the
orient of the pearls among the lady's laces and found a mirror in
the pinky polish of her finger-tips. It was just such a scene as a
little September fire, lit for show and not for warmth, would
delight to dwell on and pick out in all its opulent details; and
even Garnett, inured to Mrs. Newell's capacity for extracting manna
from the desert, reflected that she must have found new fields to
glean.

"It's about Hermy," she repeated, making room for him among the
cushions. "I had to see you at once. We came over yesterday from
London."

Garnett, seating himself, continued his leisurely survey of the
room. In the glitter of Mrs. Newell's magnificence Hermione, as
usual, faded out of sight, and he hardly noticed her mother's
allusion.

"I have never seen you more resplendent," he remarked.

She received the tribute with complacency. "The rooms are not bad,
are they? We came over with the Woolsey Hubbards (you've heard of
them, of course?--they're from Detroit), and really they do things
very decently. Their motor-car met us at Boulogne, and the courier
always wires ahead to have the rooms filled with flowers. This
_salon,_ is really a part of their suite. I simply couldn't have
afforded it myself."

She delivered these facts in a high decisive voice, which had a note
akin to the clink of her many bracelets and the rattle of her ringed
hands against the enamelled cigarette-case which she extended to
Garnett after helping herself from its contents.

"You are always meeting such charming people," said Garnett with
mild irony; and, reverting to her first remark, he bethought himself
to add: "I hope Miss Hermione is not ill?"

"Ill? She was never ill in her life," exclaimed Mrs. Newell, as
though her daughter had been accused of an indelicacy.

"It was only that you said you had come over on her account."

"So I have. Hermione is to be married."

Mrs. Newell brought out the words impressively, drawing back to
observe their effect on her visitor. It was such that he received
them with a long silent stare, which finally passed into a cry of
wonder. "Married? For heaven's sake, to whom?"

Mrs. Newell continued to regard him with a smile so serene and
victorious that he saw she took his somewhat unseemly astonishment
as a merited tribute to her genius. Presently she extended a
glittering hand and took a sheet of note paper from the blotter.

"You can have that put in to-morrow's _Herald_," she said.

Garnett, receiving the paper, read in Hermione's own finished hand:
"A marriage has been arranged, and will shortly take place, between
the Comte Louis du Trayas, son of the Marquis du Trayas de la Baume,
and Miss Hermione Newell, daughter of Samuel C. Newell Esqre. of
Elmira, N. Y. Comte Louis du Trayas belongs to one of the oldest and
most distinguished families in France, and is equally well connected
in England, being the nephew of Lord Saint Priscoe and a cousin of
the Countess of Morningfield, whom he frequently visits at Adham and
Portlow."

The perusal of this document filled Garnett with such deepening
wonder that he could not, for the moment, even do justice to the
strangeness of its being written out for publication in the bride's
own hand. Hermione a bride! Hermione a future countess! Hermione on
the brink of a marriage which would give her not only a great
"situation" in the Parisian world but a footing in some of the best
houses in England! Regardless of its unflattering implications,
Garnett prolonged his stare of mute amazement till Mrs. Newell
somewhat sharply exclaimed--"Well, didn't I always tell you that she
would marry a Frenchman?"

Garnett, in spite of himself, smiled at this revised version of his
hostess's frequent assertion that Hermione was too goody-goody to
take in England, but that with her little dowdy air she might very
well "go off" in the Faubourg if only a _dot_ could be raked up for
her--and the recollection flashed a new light on the versatility of
Mrs. Newell's genius.

"But how did you do it--?" was on the tip of his tongue; and he had
barely time to give the query the more conventional turn of: "How
did it happen?"

"Oh, we were up at Glaish with the Edmund Fitzarthurs. Lady Edmund
is a sort of cousin of the Morningfields', who have a shooting-lodge
near Glaish--a place called Portlow--and young Trayas was there with
them. Lady Edmund, who is a dear, drove Hermy over to Portlow, and
the thing was done in no time. He simply fell over head and ears in
love with her. You know Hermy is really very handsome in her
peculiar way. I don't think you have ever appreciated her," Mrs.
Newell summed up with a note of exquisite reproach.

"I've appreciated her, I assure you; but one somehow didn't think of
her marrying--so soon."

"Soon? She's three-and-twenty; but you've no imagination," said Mrs.
Newell; and Garnett inwardly admitted that he had not enough to soar
to the heights of her invention. For the marriage, of course, was an
invention of her own, a superlative stroke of business, in which he
was sure the principal parties had all been passive agents, in which
everyone, from the bankrupt and disreputable Fitzarthurs to the rich
and immaculate Morningfields, had by some mysterious sleight of hand
been made to fit into Mrs. Newell's designs. But it was not enough
for Garnett to marvel at her work--he wanted to understand it, to
take it apart, to find out how the trick had been done. It was true
that Mrs. Newell had always said Hermy might go off in the Faubourg
if she had a _dot_--but even Mrs. Newell's juggling could hardly
conjure up a _dot:_ such feats as she was able to perform in this
line were usually made to serve her own urgent necessities. And
besides, who was likely to take sufficient interest in Hermione to
supply her with the means of marrying a French nobleman? The flowers
ordered in advance by the Woolsey Hubbards' courier made Garnett
wonder if that accomplished functionary had also wired over to have
Miss Newell's settlements drawn up. But of all the comments hovering
on his lips the only one he could decently formulate was the remark
that he supposed Mrs. Newell and her daughter had come over to see
the young man's family and make the final arrangements.

"Oh, they're made--everything is settled," said Mrs. Newell, looking
him squarely in the eye. "You're wondering, of course, about the
_dot_--Frenchmen never go off their heads to the extent of
forgetting _that;_ or at least their parents don't allow them to."

Garnett murmured a vague assent, and she went on without the least
appearance of resenting his curiosity: "It all came about so
fortunately. Only fancy, just the week they met I got a little
legacy from an aunt in Elmira--a good soul I hadn't seen or heard of
for years. I suppose I ought to have put on mourning for her, by the
way, but it would have eaten up a good bit of the legacy, and I
really needed it all for poor Hermy. Oh, it's not a fortune, you
understand--but the young man is madly in love, and has always had
his own way, so after a lot of correspondence it's been arranged.
They saw Hermy this morning, and they're enchanted."

"And the marriage takes place very soon?"

"Yes, in a few weeks, here. His mother is an invalid and couldn't
have gone to England. Besides, the French don't travel. And as Hermy
has become a Catholic--"

"Already?"

Mrs. Newell stared. "It doesn't take long. And it suits Hermy
exactly--she can go to church so much oftener. So I thought," Mrs.
Newell concluded with dignity, "that a wedding at Saint Philippe du
Roule would be the most suitable thing at this season."

"Dear me," said Garnett, "I am left breathless--I can't catch up
with you. I suppose even the day is fixed, though Miss Hermione
doesn't mention it," and he indicated the official announcement in
his hand.

Mrs. Newell laughed. "Hermy had to write that herself, poor dear,
because my scrawl's too hideous--but I dictated it. No, the day
isn't fixed--that's why I sent for you." There was a splendid
directness about Mrs. Newell. It would never have occurred to her to
pretend to Garnett that she had summoned him for the pleasure of his
company.

"You've sent for me--to fix the day?" he enquired humourously.

"To remove the last obstacle to its being fixed."

"I? What kind of an obstacle could I have the least effect on?"

Mrs. Newell met his banter with a look which quelled it. "I want you
to find her father."

"Her father? Miss Hermione's--?"

"My husband, of course. I suppose you know he's living."

Garnett blushed at his own clumsiness. "I--yes--that is, I really
knew nothing--" he stammered, feeling that each word added to it. If
Hermione was unnoticeable, Mr. Newell had always been invisible. The
young man had never so much as given him a thought, and it was
awkward to come on him so suddenly at a turn of the talk.

"Well, he is--living here in Paris," said Mrs. Newell, with a note
of asperity which seemed to imply that her friend might have taken
the trouble to post himself on this point.

"In Paris? But in that case isn't it quite simple--?"

"To find him? I daresay it won't be difficult, though he is rather
mysterious. But the point is that I can't go to him--and that if I
write to him he won't answer."

"Ah," said Garnett thoughtfully.

"And so you've got to find him for me, and tell him."

"Tell him what?"

"That he must come to the wedding--that we must show ourselves
together at church and at the breakfast."

She delivered the behest in her sharp imperative key, the tone of
the born commander. But for once Garnett ventured to question her
orders.

"And supposing he won't come?"

"He must if he cares for his daughter's happiness. She can't be
married without him."

"Can't be married?"

"The French are like that--especially the old families. I was given
to understand at once that my husband must appear--if only to
establish the fact that we're not divorced."

"Ah--you're _not_, then?" escaped from Garnett.

"Mercy, no! Divorce is stupid. They don't like it in Europe. And in
this case it would have been the end of Hermy's marriage. They
wouldn't think of letting their son marry the child of divorced
parents."

"How fortunate, then--"

"Yes; but I always think of such things beforehand. And of course
I've told them that my husband will be present."

"You think he will consent?"

"No; not at first; but you must make him. You must tell him how
sweet Hermione is--and you must see Louis, and be able to describe
their happiness. You must dine here to-night--he is coming. We're
all dining with the Hubbards, and they expect you. They have given
Hermy some very good diamonds--though I should have preferred a
cheque, as she'll be horribly poor. But I think Kate Hubbard means
to do something about the trousseau--Hermy is at Paquin's with her
now. You've no idea how delightful all our friends have been.--Ah,
here is one of them now," she broke off smiling, as the door opened
to admit, without preliminary announcement, a gentleman so glossy
and ancient, with such a fixed unnatural freshness of smile and eye,
that he gave Garnett the effect of having been embalmed and then
enamelled. It needed not the exotic-looking ribbon in the visitor's
button-hole, nor Mrs. Newell's introduction of him as her friend
Baron Schenkelderff, to assure Garnett of his connection with a race
as ancient as his appearance.

Baron Schenkelderff greeted his hostess with paternal playfulness,
and the young man with an ease which might have been acquired on the
Stock Exchange and in the dressing-rooms of "leading ladies." He
spoke a faultless, colourless English, from which one felt he might
pass with equal mastery to half a dozen other languages. He enquired
patronizingly for the excellent Hubbards, asked his hostess if she
did not mean to give him a drop of tea and a cigarette, remarked
that he need not ask if Hermione was still closeted with the
dress-maker, and, on the waiter's coming in answer to his ring,
ordered the tea himself, and added a request for _fine champagne_.
It was not the first time that Garnett had seen such minor liberties
taken in Mrs. Newell's drawing-room, but they had hitherto been
taken by persons who had at least the superiority of knowing what
they were permitting themselves, whereas the young man felt almost
sure that Baron Schenkelderff's manner was the most distinguished he
could achieve; and this deepened the disgust with which, as the
minutes passed, he yielded to the conviction that the Baron was Mrs.
Newell's aunt.


IV

GARNETT had always foreseen that Mrs. Newell might some day ask him
to do something he should greatly dislike. He had never gone so far
as to conjecture what it might be, but had simply felt that if he
allowed his acquaintance with her to pass from spectatorship to
participation he must be prepared to find himself, at any moment, in
a queer situation.

The moment had come; and he was relieved to find that he could meet
it by refusing her request. He had not always been sure that she
would leave him this alternative. She had a way of involving people
in her complications without their being aware of it, and Garnett
had pictured himself in holes so tight that there might not be room
for a wriggle. Happily in this case he could still move freely.
Nothing compelled him to act as an intermediary between Mrs. Newell
and her husband, and it was preposterous to suppose that, even in a
life of such perpetual upheaval as hers, there were no roots which
struck deeper than her casual intimacy with himself. She had simply
laid hands on him because he happened to be within reach, and he
would put himself out of reach by leaving for London on the morrow.

Having thus inwardly asserted his independence, he felt free to let
his fancy dwell on the strangeness of the situation. He had always
supposed that Mrs. Newell, in her flight through life, must have
thrown a good many victims to the wolves, and had assumed that Mr.
Newell had been among the number. That he had been dropped overboard
at an early stage in the lady's career seemed probable from the fact
that neither his wife nor his daughter ever mentioned him. Mrs.
Newell was incapable of reticence, and if her husband had still been
an active element in her life he would certainly have figured in her
conversation. Garnett, if he thought of the matter at all, had
concluded that divorce must long since have eliminated Mr. Newell;
but he now saw how he had underrated his friend's faculty for using
up the waste material of life. She had always struck him as the most
extravagant of women, yet it turned out that by a miracle of thrift
she had for years kept a superfluous husband on the chance that he
might some day be useful to her. The day had come, and Mr. Newell
was to be called from his obscurity. Garnett wondered what had
become of him in the interval, and in what shape he would respond to
the evocation. The fact that his wife feared he might not respond to
it at all, seemed to show that his exile was voluntary, or had at
least come to appear preferable to other alternatives; but if that
were the case it was curious that he should not have taken legal
means to free himself. He could hardly have had his wife's motives
for wishing to maintain the vague tie between them; but conjecture
lost itself in trying to picture what his point of view was likely
to be, and Garnett, on his way to the Hubbards' dinner that evening,
could not help regretting that circumstances denied him the
opportunity of meeting so enigmatic a person. The young man's
knowledge of Mrs. Newell's methods made him feel that her husband
might be an interesting study. This, however, did not affect his
resolve to keep clear of the business. He entered the Hubbards'
dining-room with the firm intention of refusing to execute Mrs.
Newell's commission, and if he changed his mind in the course of the
evening it was not owing to that lady's persuasions.

Garnett's curiosity as to the Hubbards' share in Hermione's marriage
was appeased before he had been seated five minutes at their table.

Mrs. Woolsey Hubbard was an expansive blonde, whose ample but
disciplined outline seemed the result of a well-matched struggle
between her cook and her corset-maker. She talked a great deal of
what was appropriate in dress and conduct, and seemed to regard Mrs.
Newell as a final arbiter on both points. To do or to wear anything
inappropriate would have been extremely mortifying to Mrs. Hubbard,
and she was evidently resolved, at the price of eternal vigilance,
to prove her familiarity with what she frequently referred to as
"the right thing." Mr. Hubbard appeared to have no such
preoccupations. Garnett, if called upon to describe him, would have
done so by saying that he was the American who always pays. The
young man, in the course of his foreign wanderings, had come across
many fellow-citizens of Mr. Hubbard's type, in the most diverse
company and surroundings; and wherever they were to be found, they
always had their hands in their pockets. Mr. Hubbard's standard of
gentility was the extent of a man's capacity to "foot the bill"; and
as no one but an occasional compatriot cared to dispute the
privilege with him, he seldom had reason to doubt his social
superiority.

Garnett, nevertheless, did not believe that this lavish pair were,
as Mrs. Newell would have phrased it, "putting up" Hermione's _dot_.
They would go very far in diamonds, but they would hang back from
securities. Their readiness to pay was indefinably mingled with a
dread of being expected to, and their prodigalities would take
flight at the first hint of coercion. Mrs. Newell, who had had a
good deal of experience in managing this type of millionaire, could
be trusted not to arouse their susceptibilities, and Garnett was
therefore certain that the chimerical legacy had been extracted from
other pockets. There were none in view but those of Baron
Schenkelderff, who, seated at Mrs. Hubbard's right, with a new order
in his button-hole, and a fresh glaze upon his features, enchanted
that lady by his careless references to crowned heads and his
condescending approval of the champagne. Garnett was more than ever
certain that it was the Baron who was paying; and it was this
conviction which made him suddenly feel that, at any cost,
Hermione's marriage must take place. He had felt no special interest
in the marriage except as one more proof of Mrs. Newell's
extraordinary capacity; but now it appealed to him from the girl's
own stand-point. For he saw, with a touch of compunction, that in
the mephitic air of her surroundings a love-story of surprising
freshness had miraculously flowered. He had only to intercept the
glances which the young couple exchanged to find himself transported
to the candid region of romance. It was evident that Hermione adored
and was adored; that the lovers believed in each other and in every
one about them, and that even the legacy of the defunct aunt had not
been too great a strain on their faith in human nature.

His first glance at the Comte Louis du Trayas showed Garnett that,
by some marvel of fitness, Hermione had happened upon a kindred
nature. If the young man's long mild features and short-sighted
glance revealed no special force of character, they showed a
benevolence and simplicity as incorruptible as her own, and declared
that their possessor, whatever his failings, would never imperil the
illusions she had so miraculously preserved. The fact that the girl
took her good fortune naturally, and did not regard herself as
suddenly snatched from the jaws of death, added poignancy to the
situation; for if she missed this way of escape, and was thrown back
on her former life, the day of discovery could not be long deferred.
It made Garnett shiver to think of her growing old between her
mother and Schenkelderff, or such successors of the Baron's as might
probably attend on Mrs. Newell's waning fortunes; for it was clear
to him that the Baron marked the first stage in his friend's
decline. When Garnett took leave that evening he had promised Mrs.
Newell that he would try to find her husband.


V

IF Mr. Newell read in the papers the announcement of his daughter's
marriage it did not cause him to lift the veil of seclusion in which
his wife represented him as shrouded.

A round of the American banks in Paris failed to give Garnett his
address, and it was only in chance talk with one of the young
secretaries of the Embassy that he was put on Mr. Newell's track.
The secretary's father, it appeared, had known the Newells some
twenty years earlier. He had had business relations with Mr. Newell,
who was then a man of property, with factories or something of the
kind, the narrator thought, somewhere in Western New York. There had
been at this period, for Mrs. Newell, a phase of large hospitality
and showy carriages in Washington and at Narragansett. Then her
husband had had reverses, had lost heavily in Wall Street, and had
finally drifted abroad and been lost to sight. The young man did not
know at what point in his financial decline Mr. Newell had parted
company with his wife and daughter; "though you may bet your hat,"
he philosophically concluded, "that the old girl hung on as long as
there were any pickings." He did not himself know Mr. Newell's
address, but opined that it might be extracted from a certain
official at the Consulate, if Garnett could give a sufficiently good
reason for the request; and here in fact Mrs. Newell's emissary
learned that her husband was to be found in an obscure street of the
Luxembourg quarter.

In order to be near the scene of action, Garnett went to breakfast
at his usual haunt, determined to despatch his business as early in
the day as politeness allowed. The head waiter welcomed him to a
table near that of the transatlantic sage, who sat in his customary
corner, his head tilted back against the blistered mirror at an
angle suggesting that in a freer civilization his feet would have
sought the same level. He greeted Garnett affably and the two
exchanged their usual generalizations on life till the sage rose to
go; whereupon it occurred to Garnett to accompany him. His friend
took the offer in good part, merely remarking that he was going to
the Luxembourg gardens, where it was his invariable habit, on good
days, to feed the sparrows with the remains of his breakfast roll;
and Garnett replied that, as it happened, his own business lay in
the same direction.

"Perhaps, by the way," he added, "you can tell me how to find the
rue Panonceaux where I must go presently. I thought I knew this
quarter fairly well, but I have never heard of it."

His companion came to a sudden halt on the narrow sidewalk, to the
confusion of the dense and desultory traffic which marks the old
streets of the Latin quarter. He fixed his mild eye on Garnett and
gave a twist to the cigar which lingered in the corner of his mouth.

"The rue Panonceaux? It _is_ an out of the way hole, but I can tell
you how to find it," he answered.

He made no motion to do so, however, but continued to bend on the
young man the full force of his interrogative gaze; then he added
abruptly: "Would you mind telling me your object in going there?"

Garnett looked at him with surprise: a question so unblushingly
personal was strangely out of keeping with his friend's usual
attitude of detachment. Before he could reply, however, the other
had quietly continued: "Do you happen to be in search of Samuel C.
Newell?"

"Why, yes, I am," said Garnett with a start of conjecture.

His companion uttered a sigh. "I supposed so," he said resignedly;
"and in that case," he added, "we may as well have the matter out in
the Luxembourg."

Garnett had halted before him with deepening astonishment. "But you
don't mean to tell me--?" he stammered.

The little man made a motion of assent. "I am Samuel C. Newell," he
said drily; "and if you have no objection, I prefer not to break
through my habit of feeding the sparrows. We are five minutes late
as it is."

He quickened his pace without awaiting any reply from Garnett, who
walked beside him in unsubdued wonder till they reached the
Luxembourg gardens, where Mr. Newell, making for one of the less
frequented alleys, seated himself on a bench and drew the fragment
of a roll from his pocket. His coming was evidently expected, for a
shower of little dusky bodies at once descended on him, and the
gravel fluttered with battling wings and beaks as he distributed his
dole with impartial gestures.

It was not till the ground was white with crumbs, and the first
frenzy of his pensioners appeased, that he turned to Garnett and
said: "I presume, sir, that you come from my wife."

Garnett coloured with embarrassment: the more simply the old man
took his mission the more complicated it appeared to himself.

"From your wife--and from Miss Newell," he said at length. "You have
perhaps heard that she is to be married."

"Oh, yes--I read the _Herald_ pretty faithfully," said Miss Newell's
parent, shaking out another handful of crumbs.

Garnett cleared his throat. "Then you have no doubt thought it
natural that, under the circumstances, they should wish to
communicate with you."

The sage continued to fix his attention on the sparrows. "My wife,"
he remarked, "might have written to me."

"Mrs. Newell was afraid she might not hear from you in reply."

"In reply? Why should she? I suppose she merely wishes to announce
the marriage. She knows I have no money left to buy
wedding-presents," said Mr. Newell astonishingly.

Garnett felt his colour deepen: he had a vague sense of standing as
the representative of something guilty and enormous, with which he
had rashly identified himself.

"I don't think you understand," he said. "Mrs. Newell and your
daughter have asked me to see you because they are anxious that you
should consent to appear at the wedding."

Mr. Newell, at this, ceased to give his attention to the birds, and
turned a compassionate gaze upon Garnett.

"My dear sir--I don't know your name--" he remarked, "would you mind
telling me how long you have been acquainted with Mrs. Newell?" And
without waiting for an answer he added judicially: "If you wait long
enough she will ask you to do some very disagreeable things for
her."

This echo of his own thoughts gave Garnett a sharp twinge of
discomfort, but he made shift to answer good-humouredly: "If you
refer to my present errand, I must tell you that I don't find it
disagreeable to do anything which may be of service to Miss
Hermione."

Mr. Newell fumbled in his pocket, as though searching unavailingly
for another morsel of bread; then he said: "From her point of view I
shall not be the most important person at the ceremony."

Garnett smiled. "That is hardly a reason--" he began; but he was
checked by the brevity of tone with which his companion replied: "I
am not aware that I am called upon to give you my reasons."

"You are certainly not," the young man rejoined, "except in so far
as you are willing to consider me as the messenger of your wife and
daughter."

"Oh, I accept your credentials," said the other with his dry smile;
"what I don't recognize is their right to send a message."

This reduced Garnett to silence, and after a moment's pause Mr.
Newell drew his watch from his pocket.

"I am sorry to cut the conversation short, but my days are mapped
out with a certain regularity, and this is the hour for my nap." He
rose as he spoke and held out his hand with a glint of melancholy
humour in his small clear eyes.

"You dismiss me, then? I am to take back a refusal?" the young man
exclaimed.

"My dear sir, those ladies have got on very well without me for a
number of years: I imagine they can put through this wedding without
my help."

"You are mistaken, then; if it were not for that I shouldn't have
undertaken this errand."

Mr. Newell paused as he was turning away. "Not for what?" he
enquired.

"The fact that, as it happens, the wedding can't be put through
without your help."

Mr. Newell's thin lips formed a noiseless whistle. "They've got to
have my consent, have they? Well, is he a good young man?"

"The bridegroom?" Garnett echoed in surprise. "I hear the best
accounts of him--and Miss Newell is very much in love."

Her parent met this with an odd smile. "Well, then, I give my
consent--it's all I've got left to give," he added philosophically.

Garnett hesitated. "But if you consent--if you approve--why do you
refuse your daughter's request?"

Mr. Newell looked at him a moment. "Ask Mrs. Newell!" he said. And
as Garnett was again silent, he turned away with a slight gesture of
leave-taking.

But in an instant the young man was at his side. "I will not ask
your reasons, sir," he said, "but I will give you mine for being
here. Miss Newell cannot be married unless you are present at the
ceremony. The young man's parents know that she has a father living,
and they give their consent only on condition that he appears at her
marriage. I believe it is customary in old French families--."

"Old French families be damned!" said Mr. Newell with sudden vigour.
"She had better marry an American." And he made a more decided
motion to free himself from Garnett's importunities.

But his resistance only strengthened the young man's. The more
unpleasant the latter's task became, the more unwilling he grew to
see his efforts end in failure. During the three days which had been
consumed in his quest it had become clear to him that the
bridegroom's parents, having been surprised into a reluctant
consent, were but too ready to withdraw it on the plea of Mr.
Newell's non-appearance. Mrs. Newell, on the last edge of tension,
had confided to Garnett that the Morningfields were "being nasty";
and he could picture the whole powerful clan, on both sides of the
Channel, arrayed in a common resolve to exclude poor Hermione from
their ranks. The very inequality of the contest stirred his blood,
and made him vow that in this case at least the sins of the parents
should not be visited on the children. In his talk with the young
secretary he had obtained some glimpses of Baron Schenkelderff's
past which fortified this resolve. The Baron, at one time a familiar
figure in a much-observed London set, had been mixed up in an ugly
money-lending business ending in suicide, which had excluded him
from the society most accessible to his race. His alliance with Mrs.
Newell was doubtless a desperate attempt at rehabilitation, a
forlorn hope on both sides, but likely to be an enduring tie because
it represented, to both partners, their last chance of escape from
social extinction. That Hermione's marriage was a mere stake in
their game did not in the least affect Garnett's view of its
urgency. If on their part it was a sordid speculation, to her it had
the freshness of the first wooing. If it made of her a mere pawn in
their hands, it would put her, so Garnett hoped, beyond farther risk
of such base uses; and to achieve this had become a necessity to
him.

The sense that, if he lost sight of Mr. Newell, the latter might not
easily be found again, nerved Garnett to hold his ground in spite of
the resistance he encountered; and he tried to put the full force of
his plea into the tone with which he cried: "Ah, you don't know your
daughter!"


VI

MRS. NEWELL, that afternoon, met him on the threshold of her
sitting-room with a "Well?" of pent-up anxiety.

In the room itself, Baron Schenkelderff sat with crossed legs and
head thrown back, in an attitude which he did not see fit to alter
at the young man's approach.

Garnett hesitated; but it was not the summariness of the Baron's
greeting which he resented.

"You've found him?" Mrs. Newell exclaimed.

"Yes; but--"

She followed his glance and answered it with a slight shrug. "I
can't take you into my room, because there's a dress-maker there,
and she won't go because she is waiting to be paid. Schenkelderff,"
she exclaimed, "you're not wanted; please go and look out of the
window."

The Baron rose and, lighting a cigarette, laughingly retired to the
embrasure. Mrs. Newell flung herself down and signed to Garnett to
take a seat at her side.

"Well--you've found him? You've talked with him?"

"Yes; I have talked with him--for an hour."

She made an impatient movement. "That's too long! Does he refuse?"

"He doesn't consent."

"Then you mean--?"

"He wants time to think it over."

"Time? There _is_ no time--did you tell him so?"

"I told him so; but you must remember that he has plenty. He has
taken twenty-four hours."

Mrs. Newell groaned. "Oh, that's too much. When he thinks things
over he always refuses."

"Well, he would have refused at once if I had not agreed to the
delay."

She rose nervously from her seat and pressed her hands to her
forehead. "It's too hard, after all I've done! The trousseau is
ordered--think how disgraceful! You must have managed him badly;
I'll go and see him myself."

The Baron, at this, turned abruptly from his study of the Place
Vendome.

"My dear creature, for heaven's sake don't spoil everything!" he
exclaimed.

Mrs. Newell coloured furiously. "What's the meaning of that
brilliant speech?"

"I was merely putting myself in the place of a man on whom you have
ceased to smile."

He picked up his hat and stick, nodded knowingly to Garnett, and
walked toward the door with an air of creaking jauntiness.

But on the threshold Mrs. Newell waylaid him.

"Don't go--I must speak to you," she said, following him into the
antechamber; and Garnett remembered the dress-maker who was not to
be dislodged from her bedroom.

In a moment Mrs. Newell returned, with a small flat packet which she
vainly sought to dissemble in an inaccessible pocket.

"He makes everything too odious!" she exclaimed; but whether she
referred to her husband or the Baron it was left to Garnett to
decide.

She sat silent, nervously twisting her cigarette-case between her
fingers, while her visitor rehearsed the details of his conversation
with Mr. Newell. He did not indeed tell her the arguments he had
used to shake her husband's resolve, since in his eloquent sketch of
Hermione's situation there had perforce entered hints unflattering
to her mother; but he gave the impression that his hearer had in the
end been moved, and for that reason had consented to defer his
refusal.

"Ah, it's not that--it's to prolong our misery!" Mrs. Newell
exclaimed; and after a moment she added drearily: "He has been
waiting for such an opportunity for years."

It seemed needless for Garnett to protract his visit, and he took
leave with the promise to report at once the result of his final
talk with Mr. Newell. But as he was passing through the ante-chamber
a side-door opened and Hermione stood before him. Her face was
flushed and shaken out of its usual repose of line, and he saw at
once that she had been waiting for him.

"Mr. Garnett!" she said in a whisper.

He paused, considering her with surprise: he had never supposed her
capable of such emotion as her voice and eyes revealed.

"I want to speak to you; we are quite safe here. Mamma is with the
dress-maker," she explained, closing the door behind her, while
Garnett laid aside his hat and stick.

"I am at your service," he said.

"You have seen my father? Mamma told me that you were to see him
to-day," the girl went on, standing close to him in order that she
might not have to raise her voice.

"Yes; I have seen him," Garnett replied with increasing wonder.
Hermione had never before mentioned her father to him, and it was by
a slight stretch of veracity that he had included her name in her
mother's plea to Mr. Newell. He had supposed her to be either
unconscious of the transaction, or else too much engrossed in her
own happiness to give it a thought; and he had forgiven her the last
alternative in consideration of the abnormal character of her filial
relations. But now he saw that he must readjust his view of her.

"You went to ask him to come to my wedding; I know about it,"
Hermione continued. "Of course it is the custom--people will think
it odd if he does not come." She paused, and then asked: "Does he
consent?"

"No; he has not yet consented."

"Ah, I thought so when I saw Mamma just now!"

"But he hasn't quite refused--he has promised to think it over."

"But he hated it--he hated the idea?"

Garnett hesitated. "It seemed to arouse painful associations."

"Ah, it would--it would!" she exclaimed.

He was astonished at the passion of her accent; astonished still
more at the tone with which she went on, laying her hand on his arm:
"Mr. Garnett, he must not be asked--he has been asked too often to
do things that he hated!"

Garnett looked at the girl with a shock of awe. What abysses of
knowledge did her purity hide?

"But, my dear Miss Hermione--" he began.

"I know what you are going to say," she interrupted him. "It is
necessary that he should be present at the marriage or the du Trayas
will break it off. They don't want it very much, at any rate," she
added with a strange candour, "and they will not be sorry,
perhaps--for of course Louis would have to obey them."

"So I explained to your father," Garnett assured her.

"Yes--yes; I knew you would put it to him. But that makes no
difference, Mr. Garnett. He must not be forced to come unwillingly."

"But if he sees the point--after all, no one can force him!"

"No; but if it is painful to him--if it reminds him too much . . .
Oh, Mr. Garnett, I was not a child when he left us. . . . I was old
enough to see . . . to see how it must hurt him even now to be
reminded. Peace was all he asked for, and I want him to be left in
peace!"

Garnett paused in deep embarrassment. "My dear child, there is no
need to remind you that your own future--"

She had a gesture that recalled her mother. "My future must take
care of itself; he must not be made to see us!" she said
imperatively. And as Garnett remained silent she went on: "I have
always hoped he did not hate me, but he would hate me now if he were
forced to see me."

"Not if he could see you at this moment!" he exclaimed.

She lifted her face with swimming eyes.

"Well, go to him, then; tell him what I have said to you!"

Garnett continued to stand before her, deeply struck. "It might be
the best thing," he reflected inwardly; but he did not give
utterance to the thought. He merely put out his hand, holding
Hermione's in a long pressure.

"I will do whatever you wish," he replied.

"You understand that I am in earnest?" she urged tenaciously.

"I am quite sure of it."

"Then I want you to repeat to him what I have said--I want him to be
left undisturbed. I don't want him ever to hear of us again!"

The next day, at the appointed hour, Garnett resorted to the
Luxembourg gardens, which Mr. Newell had named as a meeting-place in
preference to his own lodgings. It was clear that he did not wish to
admit the young man any further into his privacy than the occasion
required, and the extreme shabbiness of his dress hinted that pride
might be the cause of his reluctance.

Garnett found him feeding the sparrows, but he desisted at the young
man's approach, and said at once: "You will not thank me for
bringing you all this distance."

"If that means that you are going to send me away with a refusal, I
have come to spare you the necessity," Garnett answered.

Mr. Newell turned on him a glance of undisguised wonder, in which an
undertone of disappointment might almost have been detected.


"Ah--they've got no use for me, after all?" be said ironically.

Garnett, in reply, related without comment his conversation with
Hermione, and the message with which she had charged him. He
remembered her words exactly and repeated them without modification,
heedless of what they implied or revealed.

Mr. Newell listened with an immovable face, occasionally casting a
crumb to his flock. When Garnett ended he asked: "Does her mother
know of this?"

" Assuredly not!" cried Garnett with a movement of disgust.

"You must pardon me; but Mrs. Newell is a very ingenious woman." Mr.
Newell shook out his remaining crumbs and turned thoughtfully toward
Garnett.

"You believe it's quite clear to Hermione that these people will use
my refusal as a pretext for backing out of the marriage?"

"Perfectly clear--she told me so herself."

"Doesn't she consider the young man rather chicken-hearted?"

"No; he has already put up a big fight for her, and you know the
French look at these things differently. He's only twenty-three and
his marrying against his parents' approval is in itself an act of
heroism."

"Yes; I believe they look at it that way," Mr. Newell assented. He
rose and picked up the half-smoked cigar which he had laid on the
bench beside him.

"What do they wear at these French weddings, anyhow? A dress-suit,
isn't it?" he asked.

The question was such a surprise to Garnett that for the moment he
could only stammer out--"You consent then? I may go and tell her?"

"You may tell my girl--yes." He gave a vague laugh and added: "One
way or another, my wife always gets what she wants."


VII

MR. NEWELL'S consent brought with it no accompanying concessions. In
the first flush of his success Garnett had pictured himself as
bringing together the father and daughter, and hovering in an
attitude of benediction over a family group in which Mrs. Newell did
not very distinctly figure.

But Mr. Newell's conditions were inflexible. He would "see the thing
through" for his daughter's sake; but he stipulated that in the
meantime there should be no meetings or farther communications of
any kind. He agreed to be ready when Garnett called for him, at the
appointed hour on the wedding-day; but until then he begged to be
left alone. To this decision he adhered immovably, and when Garnett
conveyed it to Hermione she accepted it with a deep look of
understanding. As for Mrs. Newell she was too much engrossed in the
nuptial preparations to give her husband another thought. She had
gained her point, she had disarmed her foes, and in the first flush
of success she had no time to remember by what means her victory had
been won. Even Garnett's services received little recognition,
unless he found them sufficiently compensated by the new look in
Hermione's eyes.

The principal figures in Mrs. Newell's foreground were the Woolsey
Hubbards and Baron Schenkelderff. With these she was in hourly
consultation, and Mrs. Hubbard went about aureoled with the
importance of her close connection with an "aristocratic marriage,"
and dazzled by the Baron's familiarity with the intricacies of the
Almanach de Gotha. In his society and Mrs. Newell's, Mrs. Hubbard
evidently felt that she had penetrated to the sacred precincts where
"the right thing" flourished in its native soil. As for Hermione,
her look of happiness had returned, but with an undertint of
melancholy, visible perhaps only to Garnett, but to him always
hauntingly present. Outwardly she sank back into her passive self,
resigned to serve as the brilliant lay-figure on which Mrs. Newell
hung the trophies of conquest. Preparations for the wedding were
zealously pressed. Mrs. Newell knew the danger of giving people time
to think things over, and her fears about her husband being allayed,
she began to [87] dread a new attempt at evasion on the part of the
bridegroom's family.

"The sooner it's over the sounder I shall sleep!" she declared to
Garnett; and all the mitigations of art could not conceal the fact
that she was desperately in need of that restorative. There were
moments, indeed, when he was sorrier for her than for her husband or
her daughter; so black and unfathomable appeared the abyss into
which she must slip back if she lost her hold on this last spar of
safety.

But she did not lose her hold; his own experience, as well as her
husband's declaration, might have told him that she always got what
she wanted. How much she had wanted this particular thing was shown
by the way in which, on the last day, when all peril was over, she
bloomed out in renovated splendour. It gave Garnett a shivering
sense of the ugliness of the alternative which had confronted her.

The day came; the showy coupe provided by Mrs. Newell presented
itself punctually at Garnett's door, and the young man entered it
and drove to the rue Panonceaus. It was a little melancholy back
street, with lean old houses sweating rust and damp, and glimpses of
pit-life gardens, black and sunless, between walls bristling with
iron spikes. On the narrow pavement a blind man pottered along led
by a red-eyed poodle: a little farther on a dishevelled woman sat
grinding coffee on the threshold of a _buvette_. The bridal carriage
stopped before one of the doorways, with a clatter of hoofs and
harness which drew the neighbourhood to its windows, and Garnett
started to mount the ill-smelling stairs to the fourth floor, on
which he learned from the _concierge _that Mr. Newell lodged. But
half-way up he met the latter descending, and they turned and went
down together.

Hermione's parent wore his usual imperturbable look, and his eye
seemed as full as ever of generalisations on human folly; but there
was something oddly shrunken and submerged in his appearance, as
though he had grown smaller or his clothes larger. And on the last
hypothesis Garnett paused--for it became evident to him that Mr.
Newell had hired his dress-suit.

Seated at the young man's side on the satin cushions, he remained
silent while the carriage rolled smoothly and rapidly through the
net-work of streets leading to the Boulevard Saint-Germain; only
once he remarked, glancing at the elaborate fittings of the coupe:
"Is this Mrs. Newell's carriage?"

"I believe so--yes," Garnett assented, with the guilty sense that in
defining that lady's possessions it was impossible not to trespass
on those of her friends.

Mr. Newell made no farther comment, but presently requested his
companion to rehearse to him once more the exact duties which were
to devolve on him during the coming ceremony. Having mastered these
he remained silent, fixing a dry speculative eye on the panorama of
the brilliant streets, till the carriage drew up at the entrance of
Saint Philippe du Roule.

With the same air of composure he followed his guide through the mob
of spectators, and up the crimson velvet steps, at the head of
which, but for a word from Garnett, a formidable Suisse, glittering
with cocked hat and mace, would have checked the advance of the
small crumpled figure so oddly out of keeping with the magnificence
of the bridal party. The French fashion prescribing that the family
_cortege _shall follow the bride to the altar, the vestibule of the
church was thronged with the participatore in the coming procession;
but if Mr. Newell felt any nervousness at his sudden projection into
this unfamiliar group, nothing in his look or manner betrayed it. He
stood beside Garnett till a white-favoured carriage, dashing up to
the church with a superlative glitter of highly groomed horseflesh
and silver-plated harness, deposited the snowy apparition of the
bride, supported by her mother; then, as Hermione entered the
vestibule, he went forward quietly to meet her.

The girl, wrapped in the haze of her bridal veil, and a little
confused, perhaps, by the anticipation of the meeting, paused a
moment, as if in doubt, before the small oddly-clad figure which
blocked her path--a horrible moment to Garnett, who felt a pang of
misery at this satire on the infallibility of the filial instinct.
He longed to make some sign, to break in some way the pause of
uncertainty; but before he could move he saw Mrs. Newell give her
daughter a sharp push, he saw a blush of compunction flood
Hermione's face, and the girl, throwing back her veil, bent her tall
head and flung her arms about her father.

Mr. Newell emerged unshaken from the embrace: it seemed to have no
effect beyond giving an odder twist to his tie. He stood beside his
daughter till the church doors were thrown open; then, at a sign
from the verger, he gave her his arm, and the strange couple, with
the long train of fashion and finery behind them, started on their
march to the altar.

Garnett had already slipped into the church and secured a post of
vantage which gave him a side-view over the assemblage. The building
was thronged--Mrs. Newell had attained her ambition and given
Hermione a smart wedding. Garnett's eye travelled curiously from one
group to another--from the numerous representatives of the
bridegroom's family, all stamped with the same air of somewhat dowdy
distinction, the air of having had their thinking done for them for
so long that they could no longer perform the act individually, and
the heterogeneous company of Mrs. Newell's friends, who presented,
on the opposite side of the nave, every variety of individual
conviction in dress and conduct. Of the two groups the latter was
decidedly the more interesting to Garnett, who observed that it
comprised not only such recent acquisitions as the Woolsey Hubbards
and the Baron, but also sundry more important figures which of late
had faded to the verse of Mrs. Newell's horizon. Hermione's marriage
had drawn them back, bad once more made her mother a social entity,
had in short already accomplished the object for which it had been
planned and executed.

And as he looked about him Garnett saw that all the other actors in
the show faded into insignificance beside the dominant figure of
Mrs. Newell, became mere marionettes pulled hither and thither by
the hidden wires of her intention. One and all they were there to
serve her ends and accomplish her purpose: Schenkelderff and the
Hubbards to pay for the show, the bride and bridegroom to seal and
symbolize her social rehabilitation, Garnett himself as the humble
instrument adjusting the different parts of the complicated
machinery, and her husband, finally, as the last stake in her game,
the last asset on which she could draw to rebuild her fallen
fortunes. At the thought Garnett was filled with a deep disgust for
what the scene signified, and for his own share in it. He had been
her tool and dupe like the others; if he imagined that he was
serving Hermione, it was for her mother's ends that he had worked.
What right had he to sentimentalise a marriage founded on such base
connivances, and how could he have imagined that in so doing he was
acting a disinterested part?

While these thoughts were passing through his mind the ceremony had
already begun, and the principal personages in the drama were ranged
before him in the row of crimson velvet chairs which fills the
foreground of a Catholic marriage. Through the glow of lights and
the perfumed haze about the altar, Garnett's eyes rested on the
central figures of the group, and gradually the others disappeared
from his view and his mind. After all, neither Mrs. Newell's schmes
nor his own share in them could ever unsanctify hermione's marriage.
It was one more testimony to life's indefatigable renewals, to
nature's secret of drawing fragrance from corruption; and as his
eyes turned from the girl's illuminated presence to the resigned and
stoical figure sunk in the adjoining chair, it occured to him that
he had perhaps worked better than he knew in placing them, if only
for a moment, side by side.

Edith Wharton


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