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In Trust

IN the good days, just after we all left college, Ned Halidon and I
used to listen, laughing and smoking, while Paul Ambrose set forth
his plans.

They were immense, these plans, involving, as it sometimes seemed,
the ultimate aesthetic redemption of the whole human race; and
provisionally restoring the sense of beauty to those unhappy
millions of our fellow country-men who, as Ambrose movingly pointed
out, now live and die in surroundings of unperceived and unmitigated
ugliness.

"I want to bring the poor starved wretches back to their lost
inheritance, to the divine past they've thrown away--I want to make
'em hate ugliness so that they'll smash nearly everything in sight,"
he would passionately exclaim, stretching his arms across the shabby
black-walnut writing-table and shaking his thin consumptive fist in
the fact of all the accumulated ugliness in the world.

"You might set the example by smashing that table," I once suggested
with youthful brutality; and Paul, pulling himself up, cast a
surprised glance at me, and then looked slowly about the parental
library, in which we sat.

His parents were dead, and he had inherited the house in Seventeenth
Street, where his grandfather Ambrose had lived in a setting of
black walnut and pier glasses, giving Madeira dinners, and saying to
his guests, as they rejoined the ladies across a florid waste of
Aubusson carpet: "This, sir, is Dabney's first study for the
Niagara--the Grecian Slave in the bay window was executed for me in
Rome twenty years ago by my old friend Ezra Stimpson--" by token of
which he passed for a Maecenas in the New York of the 'forties,' and
a poem had once been published in the Keepsake or the Book of Beauty
"On a picture in the possession of Jonathan Ambrose, Esqre."

Since then the house had remained unchanged. Paul's father, a frugal
liver and hard-headed manipulator of investments, did not inherit
old Jonathan's artistic sensibilities, and was content to live and
die in the unmodified black walnut and red rep of his predecessor.
It was only in Paul that the grandfather's aesthetic faculty
revived, and Mrs. Ambrose used often to say to her husband, as they
watched the little pale-browed boy poring over an old number of the
_Art Journal:_ "Paul will know how to appreciate your father's
treasures."

In recognition of these transmitted gifts Paul, on leaving Harvard,
was sent to Paris with a tutor, and established in a studio in which
nothing was ever done. He could not paint, and recognized the fact
early enough to save himself much wasted labor and his friends many
painful efforts in dissimulation. But he brought back a touching
enthusiasm for the forms of beauty which an old civilization had
revealed to him and an apostolic ardour in the cause of their
dissemination.

He had paused in his harangue to take in my ill-timed parenthesis,
and the color mounted slowly to his thin cheek-bones.

"It _is_ an ugly room," he owned, as though he had noticed the
library for the first time.

The desk was carved at the angles with the heads of helmeted knights
with long black-walnut moustaches. The red cloth top was worn
thread-bare, and patterned like a map with islands and peninsulas of
ink; and in its centre throned a massive bronze inkstand
representing a Syrian maiden slumbering by a well beneath a
palm-tree.

"The fact is," I said, walking home that evening with Ned Halidon,
"old Paul will never do anything, for the simple reason that he's
too stingy."

Ned, who was an idealist, shook his handsome head. "It's not that,
my dear fellow. He simply doesn't see things when they're too close
to him. I'm glad you woke him up to that desk."

The next time I dined with Paul he said, when we entered the
library, and I had gently rejected one of his cheap cigars in favour
of a superior article of my own: "Look here, I've been looking round
for a decent writing-table. I don't care, as a rule, to turn out old
things, especially when they've done good service, but I see now
that this is too monstrous--"

"For an apostle of beauty to write his evangel on," I agreed, "it
_is_ a little inappropriate, except as an awful warning."

Paul colored. "Well, but, my dear fellow, I'd no idea how much a
table of this kind costs. I find I can't get anything decent--the
plainest mahogany--under a hundred and fifty." He hung his head, and
pretended not to notice that I was taking out my own cigar.

"Well, what's a hundred and fifty to you?" I rejoined. "You talk as
if you had to live on a book-keeper's salary, with a large family to
support."

He smiled nervously and twirled the ring on his thin finger. "I
know--I know--that's all very well. But for twenty tables that I
_don't_ buy I can send some fellow abroad and unseal his eyes."

"Oh, hang it, do both!" I exclaimed impatiently; but the
writing-table was never bought. The library remained as it was, and
so did the contention between Halidon and myself, as to whether this
inconsistent acceptance of his surroundings was due, on our friend's
part, to a congenital inability to put his hand in his pocket, or to
a real unconsciousness of the ugliness that happened to fall inside
his point of vision.

"But he owned that the table was ugly," I agreed.

"Yes, but not till you'd called his attention to the fact; and I'll
wager he became unconscious of it again as soon as your back was
turned."

"Not before he'd had time to look at a lot of others, and make up
his mind that he couldn't afford to buy one."

"That was just his excuse. He'd rather be thought mean than
insensible to ugliness. But the truth is that he doesn't mind the
table and is used to it. He knows his way about the drawers."

"But he could get another with the same number of drawers."

"Too much trouble," argued Halidon.

"Too much money," I persisted.

"Oh, hang it, now, if he were mean would he have founded three
travelling scholarships and be planning this big Academy of Arts?"

"Well, he's mean to himself, at any rate."

"Yes; and magnificently, royally generous to all the world besides!"
Halidon exclaimed with one of his great flushes of enthusiasm.

But if, on the whole, the last word remained with Halidon, and
Ambrose's personal chariness seemed a trifling foible compared to
his altruistic breadth of intention, yet neither of us could help
observing, as time went on, that the habit of thrift was beginning
to impede the execution of his schemes of art-philanthropy. The
three travelling scholarships had been founded in the first blaze of
his ardour, and before the personal management of his property had
awakened in him the sleeping instincts of parsimony. But as his
capital accumulated, and problems of investment and considerations
of interest began to encroach upon his visionary hours, we saw a
gradual arrest in the practical development of his plan.

"For every thousand dollars he talks of spending on his work, I
believe he knocks off a cigar, or buys one less newspaper," Halidon
grumbled affectionately; "but after all," he went on, with one of
the quick revivals of optimism that gave a perpetual freshness to
his spirit, "after all, it makes one admire him all the more when
one sees such a nature condemned to be at war with the petty
inherited instinct of greed."

Still, I could see it was a disappointment to Halidon that the great
project of the Academy of Arts should languish on paper long after
all its details had been discussed and settled to the satisfaction
of the projector, and of the expert advisers he had called in
council.

"He's quite right to do nothing in a hurry--to take advice and
compare ideas and points of view--to collect and classify his
material in advance," Halidon argued, in answer to a taunt of mine
about Paul's perpetually reiterated plea that he was still waiting
for So-and-so's report; "but now that the plan's mature--and _such_
a plan! You'll grant it's magnificent?--I should think he'd burn to
see it carried out, instead of pottering over it till his enthusiasm
cools and the whole business turns stale on his hands."

That summer Ambrose went to Europe, and spent his holiday in a
frugal walking-tour through Brittany. When he came back he seemed
refreshed by his respite from business cares and from the
interminable revision of his cherished scheme; while contact with
the concrete manifestations of beauty had, as usual, renewed his
flagging ardour.

"By Jove," he cried, "whenever I indulged my unworthy eyes in a long
gaze at one of those big things--picture or church or statue--I kept
saying to myself: 'You lucky devil, you, to be able to provide such
a sight as that for eyes that can make some good use of it! Isn't it
better to give fifty fellows a chance to paint or carve or build,
than to be able to daub canvas or punch clay in a corner all by
yourself?'"

"Well," I said, when he had worked off his first ebullition, "when
is the foundation stone to be laid?"

His excitement dropped. "The foundation stone--?"

"When are you going to touch the electric button that sets the thing
going?"

Paul, with his hands in his sagging pockets, began to pace the
library hearth-rug--I can see him now, setting his shabby red
slippers between its ramified cabbages.

"My dear fellow, there are one or two points to be considered
still--one or two new suggestions I picked up over there--"

I sat silent, and he paused before me, flushing to the roots of his
thin hair. "You think I've had time enough--that I ought to have put
the thing through before this? I suppose you're right; I can see
that even Ned Halidon thinks so; and he has always understood my
difficulties better than you have."

This insinuation exasperated me. "Ned would have put it through
years ago!" I broke out.

Paul pulled at his straggling moustache. "You mean he has more
executive capacity? More--no, it's not that; he's not afraid to
spend money, and I am!" he suddenly exclaimed.

He had never before alluded to this weakness to either of us, and I
sat abashed, suffering from his evident distress. But he remained
planted before me, his little legs wide apart, his eyes fixed on
mine in an agony of voluntary self-exposure.

"That's my trouble, and I know it. Big sums frighten me--I can't
look them in the face. By George, I wish Ned had the carrying out of
this scheme--I wish he could spend my money for me!" His face was
lit by the reflection of a passing thought. "Do you know, I
shouldn't wonder if I dropped out of the running before either of
you chaps, and in case I do I've half a mind to leave everything in
trust to Halidon, and let him put the job through for me."

"Much better have your own fun with it," I retorted; but he shook
his head, saying with a sigh as he turned away: "It's _not_ fun to
me--that's the worst of it."

Halidon, to whom I could not help repeating our talk, was amused and
touched by his friend's thought.

"Heaven knows what will become of the scheme, if Paul doesn't live
to carry it out. There are a lot of hungry Ambrose cousins who will
make one gulp of his money, and never give a dollar to the work.
Jove, it _would_ be a fine thing to have the carrying out of such a
plan--but he'll do it yet, you'll see he'll do it yet!" cried Ned,
his old faith in his friend flaming up again through the wet blanket
of fact.


II

PAUL AMBROSE did not die and leave his fortune to Halidon, but the
following summer he did something far more unexpected. He went
abroad again, and came back married. Now our busy fancy had never
seen Paul married. Even Ned recognized the vague unlikelihood of
such a metamorphosis.

"He'd stick at the parson's fee--not to mention the best man's
scarf-pin. And I should hate," Ned added sentimentally, "to see 'the
touch of a woman's hand' desecrate the sublime ugliness of the
ancestral home. Think of such a house made 'cozy'!"

But when the news came he would own neither to surprise nor to
disappointment.

"Goodbye, poor Academy!" I exclaimed, tossing over the bridegroom's
eight-page rhapsody to Halidon, who had received its duplicate by
the same post.

"Now, why the deuce do you say that?" he growled. "I never saw such
a beast as you are for imputing mean motives."

To defend myself from this accusation I put out my hand and
recovered Paul's letter.

"Here: listen to this. 'Studying art in Paris when I met her--"the
vision and the faculty divine, but lacking the accomplishment," etc.
. . . A little ethereal profile, like one of Piero della Francesca's
angels . . . not rich, thank heaven, _but not afraid of money_, and
already enamored of my project for fertilizing my sterile millions .
. .'"

"Well, why the deuce--?" Ned began again, as though I had convicted
myself out of my friend's mouth; and I could only grumble obscurely:
"It's all too pat."

He brushed aside my misgivings. "Thank heaven, she can't paint, any
how. And now that I think of it, Paul's just the kind of chap who
ought to have a dozen children."

"Ah, then indeed: goodbye, poor Academy!" I croaked.

The lady was lovely, of that there could be no doubt; and if Paul
now for a time forgot the Academy, his doing so was but a
vindication of his sex. Halidon had only a glimpse of the returning
couple before he was himself snatched up in one of the chariots of
adventure that seemed perpetually waiting at his door. This time he
was going to the far East in the train of a "special mission," and
his head was humming with new hopes and ardors; but he had time for
a last word with me about Ambrose.

"You'll see--you'll see!" he summed up hopefully as we parted; and
what I was to see was, of course, the crowning pinnacle of the
Academy lifting itself against the horizon of the immediate future.

It was in the nature of things that I should, meanwhile, see less
than formerly of the projector of that unrealized structure. Paul
had a personal dread of society, but he wished to show his wife to
the world, and I was not often a spectator on these occasions. Paul
indeed, good fellow, tried to maintain the pretense of an unbroken
intercourse, and to this end I was asked to dine now and then; but
when I went I found guests of a new type, who, after dinner, talked
of sport and stocks, while their host blinked at them silently
through the smoke of his cheap cigars.

The first innovation that struck me was a sudden improvement in the
quality of the cigars. Was this Daisy's doing? (Mrs. Ambrose was
Daisy.) It was hard to tell--she produced her results so
noiselessly. With her fair bent head and vague smile, she seemed to
watch life flow by without, as yet, trusting anything of her own to
its current. But she was watching, at any rate, and anything might
come of that. Such modifications as she produced were as yet almost
imperceptible to any but the trained observer. I saw that Paul
wished her to be well dressed, but also that he suffered her to
drive in a hired brougham, and to have her door opened by the
raw-boned Celt who had bumped down the dishes on his bachelor table.
The drawing-room curtains were renewed, but this change served only
to accentuate the enormities of the carpet, and perhaps discouraged
Mrs. Ambrose from farther experiments. At any rate, the desecrating
touch that Halidon had affected to dread made no other inroads on
the serried ugliness of the Ambrose interior.

In the early summer, when Ned returned, the Ambroses had flown to
Europe again--and the Academy was still on paper.

"Well, what do you make of her?" the traveller asked, as we sat over
our first dinner together.

"Too many things--and they don't hang together. Perhaps she's still
in the chrysalis stage."

"Has Paul chucked the scheme altogether?"

"No. He sent for me and we had a talk about it just before he
sailed."

"And what impression did you get?"

"That he had waited to send for me _till_ just before he sailed."

"Oh, there you go again!" I offered no denial, and after a pause he
asked: "Did _she_ ever talk to you about it?"

"Yes. Once or twice--in snatches."

"Well--?"

"She thinks it all _too_ beautiful. She would like to see beauty put
within the reach of everyone."

"And the practical side--?"

"She says she doesn't understand business."

Halidon rose with a shrug. "Very likely you frightened her with your
ugly sardonic grin."

"It's not my fault if my smile doesn't add to the sum-total of
beauty."

"Well," he said, ignoring me, "next winter we shall see."

But the next winter did not bring Ambrose back. A brief line,
written in November from the Italian lakes, told me that he had "a
rotten cough," and that the doctors were packing him off to Egypt.
Would I see the architects for him, and explain to the trustees?
(The Academy already had trustees, and all the rest of its official
hierarchy.) And would they all excuse his not writing more than a
word? He was really too groggy--but a little warm weather would set
him up again, and he would certainly come home in the spring.

He came home in the spring--in the hold of the ship, with his widow
several decks above. The funeral services were attended by all the
officers of the Academy, and by two of the young fellows who had won
the travelling scholarships, and who shed tears of genuine grief
when their benefactor was committed to the grave.

After that there was a pause of suspense--and then the newspapers
announced that the late Paul Ambrose had left his entire estate to
his widow. The board of the Academy dissolved like a summer cloud,
and the secretary lighted his pipe for a year with the official
paper of the still-born institution.

After a decent lapse of time I called at the house in Seventeenth
Street, and found a man attaching a real-estate agent's sign to the
window and a van-load of luggage backing away from the door. The
care-taker told me that Mrs. Ambrose was sailing the next morning.
Not long afterward I saw the library table with the helmeted knights
standing before an auctioneer's door in University Place; and I
looked with a pang at the familiar ink-stains, in which I had so
often traced the geography of Paul's visionary world.

Halidon, who had picked up another job in the Orient, wrote me an
elegiac letter on Paul's death, ending with--"And what about the
Academy?" and for all answer I sent him a newspaper clipping
recording the terms of the will, and another announcing the sale of
the house and Mrs. Ambrose's departure for Europe.

Though Ned and I corresponded with tolerable regularity I received
no direct answer to this communication till about eighteen months
later, when he surprised me by a letter dated from Florence. It
began: "Though she tells me you have never understood her--" and
when I had reached that point I laid it down and stared out of my
office window at the chimney-pots and the dirty snow on the roof.

"Ned Halidon and Paul's wife!" I murmured; and, incongruously
enough, my next thought was: "I wish I'd bought the library table
that day."

The letter went on with waxing eloquence: "I could not stand the
money if it were not that, to her as well as to me, it represents
the sacred opportunity of at last giving speech to his
inarticulateness . . ."

"Oh, damn it, they're too glib!" I muttered, dashing the letter
down; then, controlling my unreasoning resentment, I read on. "You
remember, old man, those words of his that you repeated to me three
or four years ago: 'I've half a mind to leave my money in trust to
Ned'? Well, it _has_ come to me in trust--as if in mysterious
fulfillment of his thought; and, oh, dear chap--" I dashed the
letter down again, and plunged into my work.


III

"WON'T you own yourself a beast, dear boy?" Halidon asked me gently,
one afternoon of the following spring.

I had escaped for a six weeks' holiday, and was lying outstretched
beside him in a willow chair on the terrace of their villa above
Florence.

My eyes turned from the happy vale at our feet to the illuminated
face beside me. A little way off, at the other end of the terrace,
Mrs. Halidon was bending over a pot of carnations on the balustrade.

"Oh, cheerfully," I assented.

"You see," he continued, glowing, "living here costs us next to
nothing, and it was quite _her_ idea, our founding that fourth
scholarship in memory of Paul."

I had already heard of the fourth scholarship, but I may have
betrayed my surprise at the plural pronoun, for the blood rose under
Ned's sensitive skin, and he said with an embarrassed laugh: "Ah,
she so completely makes me forget that it's not mine too."

"Well, the great thing is that you both think of it chiefly as his."

"Oh, chiefly--altogether. I should be no more than a wretched
parasite if I didn't live first of all for that!"

Mrs. Halidon had turned and was advancing toward us with the slow
step of leisurely enjoyment. The bud of her beauty had at last
unfolded: her vague enigmatical gaze had given way to the clear look
of the woman whose hand is on the clue of life.

"_She's_ not living for anything but her own happiness," I mused,
"and why in heaven's name should she? But Ned--"

"My wife," Halidon continued, his eyes following mine, "my wife
feels it too, even more strongly. You know a woman's sensitiveness.
She's--there's nothing she wouldn't do for his memory--because--in
other ways. . . . You understand," he added, lowering his tone as
she drew nearer, "that as soon as the child is born we mean to go
home for good, and take up his work--Paul's work."

Mrs. Halidon recovered slowly after the birth of her child: the
return to America was deferred for six months, and then again for a
whole year. I heard of the Halidons as established first at
Biarritz, then in Rome. The second summer Ned wrote me a line from
St. Moritz. He said the place agreed so well with his wife--who was
still delicate--that they were "thinking of building a house there:
a mere cleft in the rocks, to hide our happiness in when it becomes
too exuberant"--and the rest of the letter, very properly, was
filled with a rhapsody upon his little daughter. He spoke of her as
Paula.

The following year the Halidons reappeared in New York, and I heard
with surprise that they had taken the Brereton house for the winter.

"Well, why not?" I argued with myself. "After all, the money is
hers: as far as I know the will didn't even hint at a restriction.
Why should I expect a pretty woman with two children" (for now there
was an heir) "to spend her fortune on a visionary scheme that its
originator hadn't the heart to carry out?"

"Yes," cried the devil's advocate--"but Ned?"

My first impression of Halidon was that he had thickened--thickened
all through. He was heavier, physically, with the ruddiness of good
living rather than of hard training; he spoke more deliberately, and
had less frequent bursts of subversive enthusiasm. Well, he was a
father, a householder--yes, and a capitalist now. It was fitting
that his manner should show a sense of these responsibilities. As
for Mrs. Halidon, it was evident that the only responsibilities she
was conscious of were those of the handsome woman and the
accomplished hostess. She was handsomer than ever, with her two
babies at her knee--perfect mother as she was perfect wife. Poor
Paul! I wonder if he ever dreamed what a flower was hidden in the
folded bud?

Not long after their arrival, I dined alone with the Halidons, and
lingered on to smoke with Ned while his wife went alone to the
opera. He seemed dull and out of sorts, and complained of a twinge
of gout.

"Fact is, I don't get enough exercise--I must look about for a
horse."

He had gone afoot for a good many years, and kept his clear skin and
quick eye on that homely regimen--but I had to remind myself that,
after all, we were both older; and also that the Halidons had
champagne every evening.

"How do you like these cigars? They're some I've just got out from
London, but I'm not quite satisfied with them myself," he grumbled,
pushing toward me the silver box and its attendant taper.

I leaned to the flame, and our eyes met as I lit my cigar. Ned
flushed and laughed uneasily. "Poor Paul! Were you thinking of those
execrable weeds of his?--I wonder how I knew you were? Probably
because I have been wanting to talk to you of our plan--I sent Daisy
off alone so that we might have a quiet evening. Not that she isn't
interested, only the technical details bore her."

I hesitated. "Are there many technical details left to settle?"

Halidon pushed his armchair back from the fire-light, and twirled
his cigar between his fingers. "I didn't suppose there were till I
began to look into things a little more closely. You know I never
had much of a head for business, and it was chiefly with you that
Paul used to go over the figures."

"The figures--?"

"There it is, you see." He paused. "Have you any idea how much this
thing is going to cost?"

"Approximately, yes."

"And have you any idea how much we--how much Daisy's fortune amounts
to?"

"None whatever," I hastened to assert.

He looked relieved. "Well, we simply can't do it--and live."

"Live?"

"Paul didn't _live_," he said impatiently. "I can't ask a woman with
two children to think of--hang it, she's under no actual
obligation--" He rose and began to walk the floor. Presently he
paused and halted in front of me, defensively, as Paul had once done
years before. "It's not that I've lost the sense of _my_
obligation--it grows keener with the growth of my happiness; but my
position's a delicate one--"

"Ah, my dear fellow--"

"You _do_ see it? I knew you would." (Yes, he was duller!) "That's
the point. I can't strip my wife and children to carry out a plan--a
plan so nebulous that even its inventor. . . . The long and short of
it is that the whole scheme must be re-studied, reorganized. Paul
lived in a world of dreams."

I rose and tossed my cigar into the fire. "There were some things he
never dreamed of," I said.

Halidon rose too, facing me uneasily. "You mean--?"

"That _you_ would taunt him with not having spent that money."

He pulled himself up with darkening brows; then the muscles of his
forehead relaxed, a flush suffused it, and he held out his hand in
boyish penitence.

"I stand a good deal from you," he said.

He kept up his idea of going over the Academy question--threshing it
out once for all, as he expressed it; but my suggestion that we
should provisionally resuscitate the extinct board did not meet with
his approval.

"Not till the whole business is settled. I shouldn't have the
face--Wait till I can go to them and say: 'We're laying the
foundation-stone on such a day.'"

We had one or two conferences, and Ned speedily lost himself in a
maze of figures. His nimble fancy was recalcitrant to mental
discipline, and he excused his inattention with the plea that he had
no head for business.

"All I know is that it's a colossal undertaking, and that short of
living on bread and water--" and then we turned anew to the hard
problem of retrenchment.

At the close of the second conference we fixed a date for a third,
when Ned's business adviser was to be called in; but before the day
came, I learned casually that the Halidons had gone south. Some
weeks later Ned wrote me from Florida, apologizing for his
remissness. They had rushed off suddenly--his wife had a cough, he
explained.

When they returned in the spring, I heard that they had bought the
Brereton house, for what seemed to my inexperienced ears a very
large sum. But Ned, whom I met one day at the club, explained to me
convincingly that it was really the most economical thing they could
do. "You don't understand about such things, dear boy, living in
your Diogenes tub; but wait till there's a Mrs. Diogenes. I can
assure you it's a lot cheaper than building, which is what Daisy
would have preferred, and of course," he added, his color rising as
our eyes met, "of course, once the Academy's going, I shall have to
make my head-quarters here; and I suppose even you won't grudge me a
roof over my head."

The Brereton roof was a vast one, with a marble balustrade about it;
and I could quite understand, without Ned's halting explanation,
that "under the circumstances" it would be necessary to defer what
he called "our work--" "Of course, after we've rallied from this
amputation, we shall grow fresh supplies--I mean my wife's
investments will," he laughingly corrected, "and then we'll have no
big outlays ahead and shall know exactly where we stand. After all,
my dear fellow, charity begins at home!"


IV

THE Halidons floated off to Europe for the summer. In due course
their return was announced in the social chronicle, and walking up
Fifth Avenue one afternoon I saw the back of the Brereton house
sheathed in scaffolding, and realized that they were adding a wing.

I did not look up Halidon, nor did I hear from him till the middle
of the winter. Once or twice, meanwhile, I had seen him in the back
of his wife's opera box; but Mrs. Halidon had grown so resplendent
that she reduced her handsome husband to a supernumerary. In January
the papers began to talk of the Halidon ball; and in due course I
received a card for it. I was not a frequenter of balls, and had no
intention of going to this one; but when the day came some obscure
impulse moved me to set aside my rule, and toward midnight I
presented myself at Ned's illuminated portals.

I shall never forget his look when I accosted him on the threshold
of the big new ballroom. With celibate egoism I had rather fancied
he would be gratified by my departure from custom; but one glance
showed me my mistake. He smiled warmly, indeed, and threw into his
hand-clasp an artificial energy of welcome--"You of all people--my
dear fellow! Have you seen Daisy?"--but the look behind the smile
made me feel cold in the crowded room.

Nor was Mrs. Halidon's greeting calculated to restore my
circulation. "Have you come to spy on us?" her frosty smile seemed
to say; and I crept home early, wondering if she had not found me
out.

It was the following week that Halidon turned up one day in my
office. He looked pale and thinner, and for the first time I noticed
a dash of gray in his hair. I was startled at the change in him, but
I reflected that it was nearly a year since we had looked at each
other by daylight, and that my shaving-glass had doubtless a similar
tale to tell.

He fidgeted about the office, told me a funny story about his little
boy, and then dropped into a chair.

"Look here," he said, "I want to go into business."

"Business?" I stared.

"Well, why not? I suppose men have gone to work, even at my age, and
not made a complete failure of it. The fact is, I want to make some
money." He paused, and added: "I've heard of an opportunity to pick
up for next to nothing a site for the Academy, and if I could lay my
hands on a little cash--"

"Do you want to speculate?" I interposed.

"Heaven forbid! But don't you see that, if I had a fixed job--so
much a quarter--I could borrow the money and pay it off gradually?"

I meditated upon this astounding proposition. "Do you really think
it's wise to buy a site before--"

"Before what?"

"Well--seeing ahead a little?"

His face fell for a moment, but he rejoined cheerfully: "It's an
exceptional chance, and after all, I _shall_ see ahead if I can get
regular work. I can put by a little every month, and by and bye,
when our living expenses diminish, my wife means to come
forward--her idea would be to give the building--"

He broke off and drummed on the table, waiting nervously for me to
speak. He did not say on what grounds he still counted on a
diminution of his household expenses, and I had not the cruelty to
press this point; but I murmured, after a moment: "I think you're
right--I should try to buy the land."

We discussed his potentialities for work, which were obviously still
an unknown quantity, and the conference ended in my sending him to a
firm of real-estate brokers who were looking out for a partner with
a little money to invest. Halidon had a few thousands of his own,
which he decided to embark in the venture; and thereafter, for the
remaining months of the winter, he appeared punctually at a desk in
the brokers' office, and sketched plans of the Academy on the back
of their business paper. The site for the future building had
meanwhile been bought, and I rather deplored the publicity which Ned
gave to the fact; but, after all, since this publicity served to
commit him more deeply, to pledge him conspicuously to the
completion of his task, it was perhaps a wise instinct of
self-coercion that had prompted him.

It was a dull winter in realty, and toward spring, when the market
began to revive, one of the Halidon children showed symptoms of a
delicate throat, and the fashionable doctor who humoured the family
ailments counselled--nay, commanded--a prompt flight to the
Mediterranean.

"He says a New York spring would be simply criminal--and as for
those ghastly southern places, my wife won't hear of them; so we're
off. But I shall be back in July, and I mean to stick to the office
all summer."

He was true to his word, and reappeared just as all his friends were
deserting town. For two torrid months he sat at his desk, drawing
fresh plans of the Academy, and waiting for the wind-fall of a "big
deal"; but in September he broke down from the effect of the
unwonted confinement, and his indignant wife swept him off to the
mountains.

"Why Ned should work when we have the money--I wish he would sell
that wretched piece of land!" And sell it he did one day: I chanced
on a record of the transaction in the realty column of the morning
paper. He afterward explained the sale to me at length. Owing to
some spasmodic effort at municipal improvement, there had been an
unforeseen rise in the adjoining property, and it would have been
foolish--yes, I agreed that it would have been foolish. He had made
$10,000 on the sale, and that would go toward paying off what he had
borrowed for the original purchase. Meanwhile he could be looking
about for another site.

Later in the winter he told me it was a bad time to look. His
position in the real-estate business enabled him to follow the trend
of the market, and that trend was obstinately upward. But of course
there would be a reaction--and he was keeping his eyes open.

As the resuscitated Academy scheme once more fell into abeyance, I
saw Halidon less and less frequently; and we had not met for several
months, when one day of June, my morning paper startled me with the
announcement that the President had appointed Edward Halidon of New
York to be Civil Commissioner of our newly acquired Eastern
possession, the Manana Islands. "The unhealthy climate of the
islands, and the defective sanitation of the towns, make it
necessary that vigorous measures should be taken to protect the
health of the American citizens established there, and it is
believed that Mr. Halidon's large experience of Eastern life and
well-known energy of character--" I read the paragraph twice; then I
dropped the paper, and projected myself through the subway to
Halidon's office. But he was not there; he had not been there for a
month. One of the clerks believed he was in Washington.

"It's true, then!" I said to myself. "But Mrs. Halidon in the
Mananas--?"

A day or two later Ned appeared in my office. He looked better than
when we had last met, and there was a determined line about his
lips.

"My wife? Heaven forbid! You don't suppose I should think of taking
her? But the job is a tremendously interesting one, and it's the
kind of work I believe I can do--the only kind," he added, smiling
rather ruefully.

"But my dear Ned--"

He faced me with a look of quiet resolution. "I think I've been
through all the _buts_. It's an infernal climate, of course, but
then I am used to the East--I know what precautions to take. And it
would be a big thing to clean up that Augean stable."

"But consider your wife and children--"

He met this with deliberation. "I _have_ considered my
children--that's the point. I don't want them to be able to say,
when they look back: 'He was content to go on living on that
money--'"

"My dear Ned--"

"That's the one thing they _shan't_ say of me," he pressed on
vehemently. "I've tried other ways--but I'm no good at business. I
see now that I shall never make money enough to carry out the scheme
myself; but at least I can clear out, and not go on being _his_
pensioner--seeing his dreams turned into horses and carpets and
clothes--"

He broke off, and leaning on my desk hid his face in his hands. When
he looked up again his flush of wrath had subsided.

"Just understand me--it's not _her_ fault. Don't fancy I'm trying
for an instant to shift the blame. A woman with children simply
obeys the instinct of her sex; she puts them first--and I wouldn't
have it otherwise. As far as she's concerned there were no
conditions attached--there's no reason why she should make any
sacrifice." He paused, and added painfully: "The trouble is, I can't
make her see that I am differently situated."

"But, Ned, the climate--what are you going to gain by chucking
yourself away?"

He lifted his brows. "That's a queer argument from _you_. And,
besides, I'm up to the tricks of all those ague-holes. And I've
_got_ to live, you see: I've got something to put through." He saw
my look of enquiry, and added with a shy, poignant laugh--how I hear
it still!--: "I don't mean only the job in hand, though that's
enough in itself; but Paul's work--you understand.--It won't come in
_my_ day, of course--I've got to accept that--but my boy's a
splendid chap" (the boy was three), "and I tell you what it is, old
man, I believe when he grows up _he'll put it through_."

Halidon went to the Mananas, and for two years the journals brought
me incidental reports of the work he was accomplishing. He certainly
had found a job to his hand: official words of commendation rang
through the country, and there were lengthy newspaper leaders on the
efficiency with which our representative was prosecuting his task in
that lost corner of our colonies. Then one day a brief paragraph
announced his death--"one of the last victims of the pestilence he
had so successfully combated."

That evening, at my club, I heard men talking of him. One said:
"What's the use of a fellow wasting himself on a lot of savages?"
and another wiseacre opined: "Oh, he went off because there was
friction at home. A fellow like that, who knew the East, would have
got through all right if he'd taken the proper precautions. I saw
him before he left, and I never saw a man look less as if he wanted
to live."

I turned on the last speaker, and my voice made him drop his lighted
cigar on his complacent knuckles.

"I never knew a man," I exclaimed, "who had better reasons for
wanting to live!"

A handsome youth mused: "Yes, his wife is very beautiful--but it
doesn't follow--"

And then some one nudged him, for they knew I was Halidon's friend.

Edith Wharton


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