He must have made more clatter than he supposed with his key at the apartment door, for his wife had come to let him in when he flung it open. "Why, Basil," she said, "what's brought you back? Are you sick? You're all pale. Well, no wonder! This is the last of Mr. Fulkerson's dinners you shall go to. You're not strong enough for it, and your stomach will be all out of order for a week. How hot you are! and in a drip of perspiration! Now you'll be sick." She took his hat away, which hung dangling in his hand, and pushed him into a chair with tender impatience. "What is the matter? Has anything happened?"
"Everything has happened," he said, getting his voice after one or two husky endeavors for it; and then he poured out a confused and huddled statement of the case, from which she only got at the situation by prolonged cross-questioning.
At the end she said, "I knew Lindau would get you into trouble."
This cut March to the heart. "Isabel!" he cried, reproachfully.
"Oh, I know," she retorted, and the tears began to come. "I don't wonder you didn't want to say much to me about that dinner at breakfast. I noticed it; but I thought you were just dull, and so I didn't insist. I wish I had, now. If you had told me what Lindau had said, I should have known what would have come of it, and I could have advised you—"
"Would you have advised me," March demanded, curiously, "to submit to bullying like that, and meekly consent to commit an act of cruelty against a man who had once been such a friend to me?"
"It was an unlucky day when you met him. I suppose we shall have to go. And just when we bad got used to New York, and begun to like it. I don't know where we shall go now; Boston isn't like home any more; and we couldn't live on two thousand there; I should be ashamed to try. I'm sure I don't know where we can live on it. I suppose in some country village, where there are no schools, or anything for the children. I don't know what they'll say when we tell them, poor things."
Every word was a stab in March's heart, so weakly tender to his own; his wife's tears, after so much experience of the comparative lightness of the griefs that weep themselves out in women, always seemed wrung from his own soul; if his children suffered in the least through him, he felt like a murderer. It was far worse than he could have imagined, the way his wife took the affair, though he had imagined certain words, or perhaps only looks, from her that were bad enough. He had allowed for trouble, but trouble on his account: a svmpathy that might burden and embarrass him; but he had not dreamed of this merely domestic, this petty, this sordid view of their potential calamity, which left him wholly out of the question, and embraced only what was most crushing and desolating in the prospect. He could not bear it. He caught up his hat again, and, with some hope that his wife would try to keep him, rushed out of the house. He wandered aimlessly about, thinking the same exhausting thoughts over and over, till he found himself horribly hungry; then he went into a restaurant for his lunch, and when he paid he tried to imagine how he should feel if that were really his last dollar.
He went home toward the middle of the afternoon, basely hoping that Fulkerson had sent him some conciliatory message, or perhaps was waiting there for him to talk it over; March was quite willing to talk it over now. But it was his wife who again met him at the door, though it seemed another woman than the one he had left weeping in the morning.
"I told the children," she said, in smiling explanation of his absence from lunch, "that perhaps you were detained by business. I didn't know but you had gone back to the office."
"Did you think I would go back there, Isabel?" asked March, with a haggard look. "Well, if you say so, I will go back, and do what Dryfoos ordered me to do. I'm sufficiently cowed between him and you, I can assure you."
"Nonsense," she said. "I approve of everything you did. But sit down, now, and don't keep walking that way, and let me see if I understand it perfectly. Of course, I had to have my say out."
She made him go all over his talk with Dryfoos again, and report his own language precisely. From time to time, as she got his points, she said, "That was splendid," "Good enough for him!" and "Oh, I'm so glad you said that to him!" At the end she said:
"Well, now, let's look at it from his point of view. Let's be perfectly just to him before we take another step forward."
"Or backward," March suggested, ruefully. "The case is simply this: he owns the magazine."
"And he has a right to expect that I will consider his pecuniary interests—"
"Oh, those detestable pecuniary interests! Don't you wish there wasn't any money in the world?"
"Yes; or else that there was a great deal more of it. And I was perfectly willing to do that. I have always kept that in mind as one of my duties to him, ever since I understood what his relation to the magazine was."
"Yes, I can bear witness to that in any court of justice. You've done it a great deal more than I could, Basil. And it was just the same way with those horrible insurance people."
"I know," March went on, trying to be proof against her flatteries, or at least to look as if he did not deserve praise; "I know that what Lindau said was offensive to him, and I can understand how he felt that he had a right to punish it. All I say is that he had no right to punish it through me."
"Yes," said Mrs. March, askingly.
"If it had been a question of making 'Every Other Week' the vehicle of Lindau's peculiar opinions—though they're not so very peculiar; he might have got the most of them out of Ruskin—I shouldn't have had any ground to stand on, or at least then I should have had to ask myself whether his opinions would be injurious to the magazine or not."
"I don't see," Mrs. March interpolated, "how they could hurt it much worse than Colonel Woodburn's article crying up slavery."
"Well," said March, impartially, "we could print a dozen articles praising the slavery it's impossible to have back, and it wouldn't hurt us. But if we printed one paper against the slavery which Lindau claims still exists, some people would call us bad names, and the counting-room would begin to feel it. But that isn't the point. Lindau's connection with 'Every Other Week' is almost purely mechanical; he's merely a translator of such stories and sketches as he first submits to me, and it isn't at all a question of his opinions hurting us, but of my becoming an agent to punish him for his opinions. That is what I wouldn't do; that's what I never will do."
"If you did," said his wife, "I should perfectly despise you. I didn't understand how it was before. I thought you were just holding out against Dryfoos because he took a dictatorial tone with you, and because you wouldn't recognize his authority. But now I'm with you, Basil, every time, as that horrid little Fulkerson says. But who would ever have supposed he would be so base as to side against you?"
"I don't know," said March, thoughtfully, "that we had a right to expect anything else. Fulkerson's standards are low; they're merely business standards, and the good that's in him is incidental and something quite apart from his morals and methods. He's naturally a generous and right-minded creature, but life has taught him to truckle and trick, like the rest of us."
"It hasn't taught you that, Basil."
"Don't be so sure. Perhaps it's only that I'm a poor scholar. But I don't know, really, that I despise Fulkerson so much for his course this morning as for his gross and fulsome flatteries of Dryfoos last night. I could hardly stomach it."
His wife made him tell her what they were, and then she said, "Yes, that was loathsome; I couldn't have believed it of Mr. Fulkerson."
"Perhaps he only did it to keep the talk going, and to give the old man a chance to say something," March leniently suggested. "It was a worse effect because he didn't or couldn't follow up Fulkerson's lead."
"It was loathsome, all the same," his wife insisted. "It's the end of Mr.
Fulkerson, as far as I'm concerned."
"I didn't tell you before," March resumed, after a moment, "of my little interview with Conrad Dryfoos after his father left," and now he went on to repeat what had passed between him and the young man.
"I suspect that he and his father had been having some words before the old man came up to talk with me, and that it was that made him so furious."
"Yes, but what a strange position for the son of such a man to take! Do you suppose he says such things to his father?"
"I don't know; but I suspect that in his meek way Conrad would say what he believed to anybody. I suppose we must regard him as a kind of crank."
"Poor young fellow! He always makes me feel sad, somehow. He has such a pathetic face. I don't believe I ever saw him look quite happy, except that night at Mrs. Horn's, when he was talking with Miss Vance; and then he made me feel sadder than ever."
"I don't envy him the life he leads at home, with those convictions of his. I don't see why it wouldn't be as tolerable there for old Lindau himself."
"Well, now," said Mrs. March, "let us put them all out of our minds and see what we are going to do ourselves."
They began to consider their ways and means, and how and where they should live, in view of March's severance of his relations with 'Every Other Week.' They had not saved anything from the first year's salary; they had only prepared to save; and they had nothing solid but their two thousand to count upon. But they built a future in which they easily lived on that and on what March earned with his pen. He became a free lance, and fought in whatever cause he thought just; he had no ties, no chains. They went back to Boston with the heroic will to do what was most distasteful; they would have returned to their own house if they had not rented it again; but, any rate, Mrs. March helped out by taking boarders, or perhaps only letting rooms to lodgers. They had some hard struggles, but they succeeded.
"The great thing," she said, "is to be right. I'm ten times as happy as if you had come home and told me that you had consented to do what Dryfoos asked and he had doubled your salary."
"I don't think that would have happened in any event," said March, dryly.
"Well, no matter. I just used it for an example."
They both experienced a buoyant relief, such as seems to come to people who begin life anew on whatever terms. "I hope we are young enough yet, Basil," she said, and she would not have it when he said they had once been younger.
They heard the children's knock on the door; they knocked when they came home from school so that their mother might let them in. "Shall we tell them at once?" she asked, and ran to open for them before March could answer.
They were not alone. Fulkerson, smiling from ear to ear, was with them.
"Is March in?" he asked.
"Mr. March is at home, yes," she said very haughtily. "He's in his study," and she led the way there, while the children went to their rooms.
"Well, March," Fulkerson called out at sight of him, "it's all right! The old man has come down."
"I suppose if you gentlemen are going to talk business—" Mrs. March began.
"Oh, we don't want you to go away," said Fulkerson. "I reckon March has told you, anyway."
"Yes, I've told her," said March. "Don't go, Isabel. What do you mean,
"He's just gone on up home, and he sent me round with his apologies. He sees now that he had no business to speak to you as he did, and he withdraws everything. He'd 'a' come round himself if I'd said so, but I told him I could make it all right."
Fulkerson looked so happy in having the whole affair put right, and the Marches knew him to be so kindly affected toward them, that they could not refuse for the moment to share his mood. They felt themselves slipping down from the moral height which they had gained, and March made a clutch to stay himself with the question, "And Lindau?"
"Well," said Fulkerson, "he's going to leave Lindau to me. You won't have anything to do with it. I'll let the old fellow down easy."
"Do you mean," asked March, "that Mr. Dryfoos insists on his being dismissed?"
"Why, there isn't any dismissing about it," Fulkerson argued. "If you don't send him any more work, he won't do any more, that's all. Or if he comes round, you can—He's to be referred to me."
March shook his head, and his wife, with a sigh, felt herself plucked up from the soft circumstance of their lives, which she had sunk back into so quickly, and set beside him on that cold peak of principle again. "It won't do, Fulkerson. It's very good of you, and all that, but it comes to the same thing in the end. I could have gone on without any apology from Mr. Dryfoos; he transcended his authority, but that's a minor matter. I could have excused it to his ignorance of life among gentlemen; but I can't consent to Lindau's dismissal—it comes to that, whether you do it or I do it, and whether it's a positive or a negative thing—because he holds this opinion or that."
"But don't you see," said Fulkerson, "that it's just Lindau's opinions the old man can't stand? He hasn't got anything against him personally. I don't suppose there's anybody that appreciates Lindau in some ways more than the old man does."
"I understand. He wants to punish him for his opinions. Well, I can't consent to that, directly or indirectly. We don't print his opinions, and he has a perfect right to hold them, whether Mr. Dryfoos agrees with them or not."
Mrs. March had judged it decorous for her to say nothing, but she now went and sat down in the chair next her husband.
"Ah, dog on it!" cried Fulkerson, rumpling his hair with both his hands.
"What am I to do? The old man says he's got to go."
"And I don't consent to his going," said March.
"And you won't stay if he goes."
Fulkerson rose. "Well, well! I've got to see about it. I'm afraid the old man won't stand it, March; I am, indeed. I wish you'd reconsider. I—I'd take it as a personal favor if you would. It leaves me in a fix. You see I've got to side with one or the other."
March made no reply to this, except to say, "Yes, you must stand by him, or you must stand by me."
"Well, well! Hold on awhile! I'll see you in the morning. Don't take any steps—"
"Oh, there are no steps to take," said March, with a melancholy smile.
"The steps are stopped; that's all." He sank back into his chair when
Fulkerson was gone and drew a long breath. "This is pretty rough. I
thought we had got through it."
"No," said his wife. "It seems as if I had to make the fight all over again."
"Well, it's a good thing it's a holy war."
"I can't bear the suspense. Why didn't you tell him outright you wouldn't go back on any terms?"
"I might as well, and got the glory. He'll never move Dryfoos. I suppose we both would like to go back, if we could."
"Oh, I suppose so."
They could not regain their lost exaltation, their lost dignity. At dinner Mrs. March asked the children how they would like to go back to Boston to live.
"Why, we're not going, are we?" asked Tom, without enthusiasm.
"I was just wondering how you felt about it, now," she said, with an underlook at her husband.
"Well, if we go back," said Bella, "I want to live on the Back Bay. It's awfully Micky at the South End."
"I suppose I should go to Harvard," said Tom, "and I'd room out at
Cambridge. It would be easier to get at you on the Back Bay."
The parents smiled ruefully at each other, and, in view of these grand expectations of his children, March resolved to go as far as he could in meeting Dryfoos's wishes. He proposed the theatre as a distraction from the anxieties that he knew were pressing equally on his wife. "We might go to the 'Old Homestead,'" he suggested, with a sad irony, which only his wife felt.
"Oh yes, let's!" cried Bella.
While they were getting ready, some one rang, and Bella went to the door, and then came to tell her father that it was Mr. Lindau. "He says he wants to see you just a moment. He's in the parlor, and he won't sit down, or anything."
"What can he want?" groaned Mrs. March, from their common dismay.
March apprehended a storm in the old man's face. But he only stood in the middle of the room, looking very sad and grave. "You are Going oudt," he said. "I won't geep you long. I haf gome to pring pack dose macassines and dis mawney. I can't do any more voark for you; and I can't geep the mawney you haf baid me a'ready. It iss not hawnest mawney—that hass been oarned py voark; it iss mawney that hass peen mate py sbeculation, and the obbression off lapor, and the necessity of the boor, py a man—Here it is, efery tollar, efery zent. Dake it; I feel as if dere vas ploodt on it."
"Why, Lindau," March began, but the old man interrupted him.
"Ton't dalk to me, Passil! I could not haf believedt it of you. When you know how I feel about dose tings, why tidn't you dell me whose mawney you bay oudt to me? Ach, I ton't plame you—I ton't rebroach you. You haf nefer thought of it; boat I have thought, and I should be Guilty, I must share that man's Guilt, if I gept hiss mawney. If you hat toldt me at the peginning—if you hat peen frank with meboat it iss all righdt; you can go on; you ton't see dese tings as I see them; and you haf cot a family, and I am a free man. I voark to myself, and when I ton't voark, I sdarfe to myself. But I geep my handts glean, voark or sdarfe. Gif him hiss mawney pack! I am sawry for him; I would not hoart hiss feelings, boat I could not pear to douch him, and hiss mawney iss like boison!"
March tried to reason with Lindau, to show him the folly, the injustice, the absurdity of his course; it ended in their both getting angry, and in Lindau's going away in a whirl of German that included Basil in the guilt of the man whom Lindau called his master.
"Well," said Mrs. March. "He is a crank, and I think you're well rid of him. Now you have no quarrel with that horrid old Dryfoos, and you can keep right on."
"Yes," said March, "I wish it didn't make me feel so sneaking. What a long day it's been! It seems like a century since I got up."
"Yes, a thousand years. Is there anything else left to happen?"
"I hope not. I'd like to go to bed."
"Why, aren't you going to the theatre?" wailed Bella, coming in upon her father's desperate expression.
"The theatre? Oh yes, certainly! I meant after we got home," and March amused himself at the puzzled countenance of the child. "Come on! Is Tom ready?"
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