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Chapter 14

XIV.

The more March thought of the injustice of the New York press (which had not, however, attacked the literary quality of the number) the more bitterly he resented it; and his wife's indignation superheated his own. 'Every Other Week' had become a very personal affair with the whole family; the children shared their parents' disgust; Belle was outspoken in, her denunciations of a venal press. Mrs. March saw nothing but ruin ahead, and began tacitly to plan a retreat to Boston, and an establishment retrenched to the basis of two thousand a year. She shed some secret tears in anticipation of the privations which this must involve; but when Fulkerson came to see March rather late the night of the publication day, she nobly told him that if the worst came to the worst she could only have the kindliest feeling toward him, and should not regard him as in the slightest degree responsible.

"Oh, hold on, hold on!" he protested. "You don't think we've made a failure, do you?"

"Why, of course," she faltered, while March remained gloomily silent.

"Well, I guess we'll wait for the official count, first. Even New York hasn't gone against us, and I guess there's a majority coming down to Harlem River that could sweep everything before it, anyway."

"What do you mean, Fulkerson?" March demanded, sternly.

"Oh, nothing! Only, the 'News Company' has ordered ten thousand now; and you know we had to give them the first twenty on commission."

"What do you mean?" March repeated; his wife held her breath.

"I mean that the first number is a booming success already, and that it's going to a hundred thousand before it stops. That unanimity and variety of censure in the morning papers, combined with the attractiveness of the thing itself, has cleared every stand in the city, and now if the favor of the country press doesn't turn the tide against us, our fortune's made." The Marches remained dumb. "Why, look here! Didn't I tell you those criticisms would be the making of us, when they first began to turn you blue this morning, March?"

"He came home to lunch perfectly sick," said Mrs. Marcli; "and I wouldn't let him go back again."

"Didn't I tell you so?" Fulkerson persisted.

March could not remember that he had, or that he had been anything but incoherently and hysterically jocose over the papers, but he said, "Yes, yes—I think so."

"I knew it from the start," said Fulkerson. "The only other person who took those criticisms in the right spirit was Mother Dryfoos—I've just been bolstering up the Dryfoos family. She had them read to her by Mrs. Mandel, and she understood them to be all the most flattering prophecies of success. Well, I didn't read between the lines to that extent, quite; but I saw that they were going to help us, if there was anything in us, more than anything that could have been done. And there was something in us! I tell you, March, that seven-shooting self-cocking donkey of a Beaton has given us the greatest start! He's caught on like a mouse. He's made the thing awfully chic; it's jimmy; there's lots of dog about it. He's managed that process so that the illustrations look as expensive as first-class wood-cuts, and they're cheaper than chromos. He's put style into the whole thing."

"Oh yes," said March, with eager meekness, "it's Beaton that's done it."

Fulkerson read jealousy of Beaton in Mrs. March's face. "Beaton has given us the start because his work appeals to the eye. There's no denying that the pictures have sold this first number; but I expect the literature of this first number to sell the pictures of the second. I've been reading it all over, nearly, since I found how the cat was jumping; I was anxious about it, and I tell you, old man, it's good. Yes, sir! I was afraid maybe you had got it too good, with that Boston refinement of yours; but I reckon you haven't. I'll risk it. I don't see how you got so much variety into so few things, and all of them palpitant, all of 'em on the keen jump with actuality."

The mixture of American slang with the jargon of European criticism in Fulkerson's talk made March smile, but his wife did not seem to notice it in her exultation. "That is just what I say," she broke in. "It's perfectly wonderful. I never was anxious about it a moment, except, as you say, Mr. Fulkerson, I was afraid it might be too good."

They went on in an antiphony of praise till March said: "Really, I don't see what's left me but to strike for higher wages. I perceive that I'm indispensable."

"Why, old man, you're coming in on the divvy, you know," said Fulkerson.

They both laughed, and when Fulkerson was gone, Mrs. March asked her husband what a divvy was.

"It's a chicken before it's hatched."

"No! Truly?"

He explained, and she began to spend the divvy.

At Mrs. Leighton's Fulkerson gave Alma all the honor of the success; he told her mother that the girl's design for the cover had sold every number, and Mrs. Leighton believed him.

"Well, Ah think Ah maght have some of the glory," Miss Woodburn pouted.

"Where am Ah comin' in?"

"You're coming in on the cover of the next number," said Fulkerson. "We're going to have your face there; Miss Leighton's going to sketch it in." He said this reckless of the fact that he had already shown them the design of the second number, which was Beaton's weird bit of gas-country landscape.

"Ah don't see why you don't wrahte the fiction for your magazine, Mr.

Fulkerson," said the girl.

This served to remind Fulkerson of something. He turned to her father. "I'll tell you what, Colonel Woodburn, I want Mr. March to see some chapters of that book of yours. I've been talking to him about it."

"I do not think it would add to the popularity of your periodical, sir," said the Colonel, with a stately pleasure in being asked. "My views of a civilization based upon responsible slavery would hardly be acceptable to your commercialized society."

"Well, not as a practical thing, of course," Fulkerson admitted. "But as something retrospective, speculative, I believe it would make a hit. There's so much going on now about social questions; I guess people would like to read it."

"I do not know that my work is intended to amuse people," said the

Colonel, with some state.

"Mah goodness! Ah only wish it WAS, then," said his daughter; and she added: "Yes, Mr. Fulkerson, the Colonel will be very glad to submit po'tions of his woak to yo' edito'. We want to have some of the honaw. Perhaps we can say we helped to stop yo' magazine, if we didn't help to stawt it."

They all laughed at her boldness, and Fulkerson said: "It 'll take a good deal more than that to stop 'Every Other Week'. The Colonel's whole book couldn't do it." Then he looked unhappy, for Colonel Woodburn did not seem to enjoy his reassuring words; but Miss Woodburn came to his rescue. "You maght illustrate it with the po'trait of the awthoris daughtaw, if it's too late for the covah."

"Going to have that in every number, Miss Woodburn!" he cried.

"Oh, mah goodness!" she said, with mock humility.

Alma sat looking at her piquant head, black, unconsciously outlined against the lamp, as she sat working by the table. "Just keep still a moment!"

She got her sketch-block and pencils, and began to draw; Fulkerson tilted himself forward and looked over her shoulder; he smiled outwardly; inwardly he was divided between admiration of Miss Woodburn's arch beauty and appreciation of the skill which reproduced it; at the same time he was trying to remember whether March had authorized him to go so far as to ask for a sight of Colonel Woodburn's manuscript. He felt that he had trenched upon March's province, and he framed one apology to the editor for bringing him the manuscript, and another to the author for bringing it back.

"Most Ah hold raght still like it was a photograph?" asked Miss Woodburn.

"Can Ah toak?"

"Talk all you want," said Alma, squinting her eyes. "And you needn't be either adamantine, nor yet—wooden."

"Oh, ho' very good of you! Well, if Ah can toak—go on, Mr. Fulkerson!"

"Me talk? I can't breathe till this thing is done!" sighed Fulkerson; at that point of his mental drama the Colonel was behaving rustily about the return of his manuscript, and he felt that he was looking his last on Miss Woodburn's profile.

"Is she getting it raght?" asked the girl.

"I don't know which is which," said Fulkerson.

"Oh, Ah hope Ah shall! Ah don't want to go round feelin' like a sheet of papah half the time."

"You could rattle on, just the same," suggested Alma.

"Oh, now! Jost listen to that, Mr. Fulkerson. Do you call that any way to toak to people?"

"You might know which you were by the color," Fulkerson began, and then he broke off from the personal consideration with a business inspiration, and smacked himself on the knee, "We could print it in color!"

Mrs. Leighton gathered up her sewing and held it with both hands in her lap, while she came round, and looked critically at the sketch and the model over her glasses. "It's very good, Alma," she said.

Colonel Woodburn remained restively on his side of the table. "Of course, Mr. Fulkerson, you were jesting, sir, when you spoke of printing a sketch of my daughter."

"Why, I don't know—If you object—?

"I do, sir—decidedly," said the Colonel.

"Then that settles it, of course,—I only meant—"

"Indeed it doesn't!" cried the girl. "Who's to know who it's from? Ah'm jost set on havin' it printed! Ah'm going to appear as the head of Slavery—in opposition to the head of Liberty."

"There'll be a revolution inside of forty-eight hours, and we'll have the Colonel's system going wherever a copy of 'Every Other Week' circulates," said Fulkerson.

"This sketch belongs to me," Alma interposed. "I'm not going to let it be printed."

"Oh, mah goodness!" said Miss Woodburn, laughing good-humoredly. "That's becose you were brought up to hate slavery."

"I should like Mr. Beaton to see it," said Mrs. Leighton, in a sort of absent tone. She added, to Fulkerson: "I rather expected he might be in to-night."

"Well, if he comes we'll leave it to Beaton," Fulkerson said, with relief in the solution, and an anxious glance at the Colonel, across the table, to see how he took that form of the joke. Miss Woodburn intercepted his glance and laughed, and Fulkerson laughed, too, but rather forlornly.

Alma set her lips primly and turned her head first on one side and then on the other to look at the sketch. "I don't think we'll leave it to Mr. Beaton, even if he comes."

"We left the other design for the cover to Beaton," Fulkerson insinuated.

"I guess you needn't be afraid of him."

"Is it a question of my being afraid?" Alma asked; she seemed coolly intent on her drawing.

"Miss Leighton thinks he ought to be afraid of her," Miss Woodburn explained.

"It's a question of his courage, then?" said Alma.

"Well, I don't think there are many young ladies that Beaton's afraid of," said Fulkerson, giving himself the respite of this purely random remark, while he interrogated the faces of Mrs. Leighton and Colonel Woodburn for some light upon the tendency of their daughters' words.

He was not helped by Mrs. Leighton's saying, with a certain anxiety, "I don't know what you mean, Mr. Fulkerson."

"Well, you're as much in the dark as I am myself, then," said Fulkerson. "I suppose I meant that Beaton is rather—a—favorite, you know. The women like him."

Mrs. Leighton sighed, and Colonel Woodburn rose and left the room.

In the silence that followed, Fulkerson looked from one lady to the other with dismay. "I seem to have put my foot in it, somehow," he suggested, and Miss Woodburn gave a cry of laughter.

"Poo' Mr. Fulkerson! Poo' Mr. Fulkerson! Papa thoat you wanted him to go."

"Wanted him to go?" repeated Fulkerson.

"We always mention Mr. Beaton when we want to get rid of papa."

"Well, it seems to me that I have noticed that he didn't take much interest in Beaton, as a general topic. But I don't know that I ever saw it drive him out of the room before!"

"Well, he isn't always so bad," said Miss Woodburn. "But it was a case of hate at first sight, and it seems to be growin' on papa."

"Well, I can understand that," said Fulkerson. "The impulse to destroy

Beaton is something that everybody has to struggle against at the start."

"I must say, Mr. Fulkerson," said Mrs. Leighton, in the tremor through which she nerved herself to differ openly with any one she liked, "I never had to struggle with anything of the kind, in regard to Mr. Beaton. He has always been most respectful and—and—considerate, with me, whatever he has been with others."

"Well, of course, Mrs. Leighton!" Fulkerson came back in a soothing tone. "But you see you're the rule that proves the exception. I was speaking of the way men felt about Beaton. It's different with ladies; I just said so."

"Is it always different?" Alma asked, lifting her head and her hand from her drawing, and staring at it absently.

Fulkerson pushed both his hands through his whiskers. "Look here! Look here!" he said. "Won't somebody start some other subject? We haven't had the weather up yet, have we? Or the opera? What is the matter with a few remarks about politics?"

"Why, Ah thoat you lahked to toak about the staff of yo' magazine," said

Miss Woodburn.

"Oh, I do!" said Fulkerson. "But not always about the same member of it. He gets monotonous, when he doesn't get complicated. I've just come round from the Marches'," he added, to Mrs. Leighton.

"I suppose they've got thoroughly settled in their apartment by this time." Mrs. Leighton said something like this whenever the Marches were mentioned. At the bottom of her heart she had not forgiven them for not taking her rooms; she had liked their looks so much; and she was always hoping that they were uncomfortable or dissatisfied; she could not help wanting them punished a little.

"Well, yes; as much as they ever will be," Fulkerson answered. "The Boston style is pretty different, you know; and the Marches are old-fashioned folks, and I reckon they never went in much for bric-a-brac They've put away nine or ten barrels of dragon candlesticks, but they keep finding new ones."

"Their landlady has just joined our class," said Alma. "Isn't her name Green? She happened to see my copy of 'Every Other Week', and said she knew the editor; and told me."

"Well, it's a little world," said Fulkerson. "You seem to be touching elbows with everybody. Just think of your having had our head translator for a model."

"Ah think that your whole publication revolves aroand the Leighton family," said Miss Woodburn.

"That's pretty much so," Fulkerson admitted. "Anyhow, the publisher seems disposed to do so."

"Are you the publisher? I thought it was Mr. Dryfoos," said Alma.

"It is."

"Oh!"

The tone and the word gave Fulkerson a discomfort which he promptly confessed. "Missed again."

The girls laughed, and he regained something of his lost spirits, and smiled upon their gayety, which lasted beyond any apparent reason for it.

Miss Woodburn asked, "And is Mr. Dryfoos senio' anything like ouah Mr.

Dryfoos?"

"Not the least."

"But he's jost as exemplary?"

"Yes; in his way."

"Well, Ah wish Ah could see all those pinks of puffection togethah, once."

"Why, look here! I've been thinking I'd celebrate a little, when the old gentleman gets back. Have a little supper—something of that kind. How would you like to let me have your parlors for it, Mrs. Leighton? You ladies could stand on the stairs, and have a peep at us, in the bunch."

"Oh, mah! What a privilege! And will Miss Alma be there, with the othah contributors? Ah shall jost expah of envy!"

"She won't be there in person," said Fulkerson, "but she'll be represented by the head of the art department."

"Mah goodness! And who'll the head of the publishing department represent?"

"He can represent you," said Alma.

"Well, Ah want to be represented, someho'."

"We'll have the banquet the night before you appear on the cover of our fourth number," said Fulkerson.

"Ah thoat that was doubly fo'bidden," said Miss Woodburn. "By the stern parent and the envious awtust."

"We'll get Beaton to get round them, somehow. I guess we can trust him to manage that."

Mrs. Leighton sighed her resentment of the implication.

"I always feel that Mr. Beaton doesn't do himself justice," she began.

Fulkerson could not forego the chance of a joke. "Well, maybe he would rather temper justice with mercy in a case like his." This made both the younger ladies laugh. "I judge this is my chance to get off with my life," he added, and he rose as he spoke. "Mrs. Leighton, I am about the only man of my sex who doesn't thirst for Beaton's blood most of the time. But I know him and I don't. He's more kinds of a good fellow than people generally understand. He doesn't wear his heart upon his sleeve-not his ulster sleeve, anyway. You can always count me on your side when it's a question of finding Beaton not guilty if he'll leave the State."

Alma set her drawing against the wall, in rising to say goodnight to Fulkerson. He bent over on his stick to look at it. "Well, it's beautiful," he sighed, with unconscious sincerity.

Alma made him a courtesy of mock modesty. "Thanks to Miss Woodburn!"

"Oh no! All she had to do was simply to stay put."

"Don't you think Ah might have improved it if Ah had, looked better?" the girl asked, gravely.

"Oh, you couldn't!" said Fulkerson, and he went off triumphant in their applause and their cries of "Which? which?"

Mrs. Leighton sank deep into an accusing gloom when at last she found herself alone with her daughter. "I don't know what you are thinking about, Alma Leighton. If you don't like Mr. Beaton—"

"I don't."

"You don't? You know better than that. You know that, you did care for him."

"Oh! that's a very different thing. That's a thing that can be got over."

"Got over!" repeated Mrs. Leighton, aghast.

"Of course, it can! Don't be romantic, mamma. People get over dozens of such fancies. They even marry for love two or three times."

"Never!" cried her mother, doing her best to feel shocked; and at last looking it.

Her looking it had no effect upon Alma. "You can easily get over caring for people; but you can't get over liking them—if you like them because they are sweet and good. That's what lasts. I was a simple goose, and he imposed upon me because he was a sophisticated goose. Now the case is reversed."

"He does care for you, now. You can see it. Why do you encourage him to come here?"

"I don't," said Alma. "I will tell him to keep away if you like. But whether he comes or goes, it will be the same."

"Not to him, Alma! He is in love with you!"

"He has never said so."

"And you would really let him say so, when you intend to refuse him?"

"I can't very well refuse him till he does say so."

This was undeniable. Mrs. Leighton could only demand, in an awful tone, "May I ask why—if you cared for him; and I know you care for him still you will refuse him?"

Alma laughed. "Because—because I'm wedded to my Art, and I'm not going to commit bigamy, whatever I do."

"Alma!"

"Well, then, because I don't like him—that is, I don't believe in him, and don't trust him. He's fascinating, but he's false and he's fickle. He can't help it, I dare say."

"And you are perfectly hard. Is it possible that you were actually pleased to have Mr. Fulkerson tease you about Mr. Dryfoos?"

"Oh, good-night, now, mamma! This is becoming personal"

William Dean Howells